Since 2019, the World Health Organization has recognized game addiction as a mental health disorder.
A study from Iowa University shows that, in America alone, 8.5 % of children are addicted to video games. That is nearly 1 in 10 children.
Children facing stressful real-world challenges are particularly vulnerable to game addiction, which offers an escape from day-to-day challenges and distracts them from worries.
Considering that even grown-ups sometimes want to retreat from all the stress and emotional battles of the real world, it’s understandable that children can feel overwhelmed by family drama and peer conflicts. Feelings of isolation and helplessness can fuel their desire for a virtual world where they can shut out real-world problems.
The online game industry is growing rapidly and will have an increasing presence in your children’s life. That being the case, how can we protect our children from addiction to games? What can you do when your child already prefers the game world to anything around them? How can you help them break free of that temptation?
Here are answers to many of the commonly-asked questions about game addiction in children. This information can serve as a guide to better protect your child from becoming addicted to video games.
1. How do you know when your child is addicted to games?
The signs of any form of addiction are fundamentally similar, regardless of age. There will be visible evidence that the daily life of the person is affected by their addiction.
For example, if your child is addicted to games, your child will spend less and less time doing anything other than playing games.
- It will affect their eating habits, sleep quality, and even daily hygiene.
- It will affect their school performance, grades, and friendships.
- It will affect family dynamics and relationships.
- It will affect their moods and mental health.
2. What makes my child addicted to games?
When it comes to a child’s game addiction, parents tend to focus on the game itself and how to stop their child from playing it. But the first thing to figure out is why the child feels the need to be immersed in the game more than anything.
Your answer might be, “Because it’s fun”. Of course, this must be true, otherwise, your child would not be spending so many hours doing it.
But even kids who love ice cream and cake don’t ask for it every day—at least, not for long. Even grown-ups addicted to coffee don’t sit drinking bucket after bucket all day long, to the exclusion of other activities. Ice cream and coffee are treats that we look forward to for a little zing of joy, but the effect doesn’t last long and can’t replace other priorities the way video games can.
For a child who wants to avoid reality, the gaming world represents an accessible sanctuary, a place to hide for hours at a time. The virtual world of the game can easily become preferable to the outside world—a place where life’s worries, bullies, and conflicts cannot follow them.
Moreover, in the manufactured reality of the game, they can feel powerful, smart and rich. To children’s minds, the problems of the world around them are solved in the game world, especially for children with excessively troubled circumstances.
So, what type of problems in a children’s real world can push them to seek refuge in the game world?
- Lack of social skills
- Loss of loved ones
- Low self-esteem
- Changes in the family situation such as a divorce
- Frustration and anger
3. How can I break my child’s game addiction—step by step?
Step one, find out the fundamental reason why your child finds the gaming world more appealing than the real world.
- Is your child suffering from bullying at school and feeling helpless? Do they think avoiding school is the best solution?
- Is your child upset with recent changes in your family situation or dynamics?
- Has your child recently lost a loved one and are they having a hard time grieving?
Step two, work on your child’s real-life problems before tackling the game addiction.
- If your child is having difficulty at school from bullying, get actively involved by reaching out to the school and anti-bullying groups and organizations. Do not expect your child to be able to deal with the problem themselves, and closely monitor the situation while seeking help anywhere you can get it—until the situation gets resolved.
- If your child is struggling with loss, give them some time and space but make sure the grief doesn’t overwhelm them. Find activities and events that will allow your child to process their sadness, find meaning, and channel their energies into new challenges.
- If your child’s low self-esteem and social anxiety hold them back from socializing and being active outside the home, find a project or group activity that will allow them to gradually build a sense of achievement.
Step three, as your child starts to tackle real-world problems and make improvements, challenge them to earn tempting rewards other than games. These rewards need to be special events your child will find hard to resist.
For example, tickets to see their favourite singer in concert, a comic book convention or sporting event, or a visit to a place your child has always dreamed of going.
Step four, once your child starts to re-engage with the real world, help your child become more involved in activities away from the screen.
For example, suggest a project or help them join an extracurricular activity that interests them. Give them a few choices of rewards for finishing the project or seeing the extracurricular commitment through to the end.
Most importantly, both the challenge and the reward have to be appealing to your child!
Step five, Once your child’s real-world challenges have been addressed, it is time to set fixed rules and boundaries around game time while offering rewards to motivate them. The key point is, Instead of using unrelated consequences or punishment, keep motivating your child with benefits he or she can earn for being more active outside of the game world.
You can start by negotiating game time for each day and offering rewards they can work toward in exchange for limiting screen time. Rewards should center around things they enjoy doing or experiences they are longing for.
For example, you might suggest, “If you keep the promise of playing games less than 2 hours a day for a week, you get to… (go to a ball game, the zoo, see a movie, etc)”.
The rewards can even be material things, as long as they provide motivation to engage in real-world activities—such as an electric skateboard, camping gear, a telescope, or a camera—that will make your child more active outdoors and away from the screen.
4. How to prevent game addiction
The best prevention tip for a game addiction is to be present in your child’s life and monitor their overall mood and stressors. When your child shows signs of stress and mood changes, it is time to step in and help them overcome that state.
When you see your child heavily relying on electronic gaming for entertainment, make a deal with them that they need to engage in at least one physical or outdoor activity before playing the game.
If you discover a stressor such as bullies or recent trauma, seek help and get actively involved in working toward a resolution to the problem before it escalates further.
More importantly, if you have young children who are yet to venture into the world of electronic games, educate them about the dangers and harmful effects of too much time spent on gaming. Always provide enough opportunities for other forms of recreation to help them relieve stress and build healthy social relationships.
5. Why do boys have a higher chance of game addiction?
A study from the Stanford University of Medicine found that males have a higher chance of becoming addicted to gaming than females.
According to the research, male brains showed greater activation in the brain’s mesocorticolimbic center—which is referred to as the reward pathway and is involved in reward-processing behavior and addiction.
Males tend to feel more rewarded for their achievements within the context of the game compared to women, especially in games that involve expanding territory and conquering others.
6. Are there treatments and specialists that can provide help for my child?
Yes, there are many pediatric psychiatrists who specialize in game addiction. These professionals have helped many children struggling with the same issue through a variety of resources. If you are having difficulties making progress in overcoming your child’s game addiction, seeking a specialist can speed up the recovery.
There are even game addiction boot camps where your child can get away from internet access and reset their priorities back to pre-addiction.
To prevent game addiction, make sure your child is managing stress and anxiety in their daily life. Engage with your child more when you notice them spending excessive time on gaming, to nip it in the bud. Spend more time doing various activities together and communicating.
Help your child overcome their real-world challenges to facilitate happiness and a sense of belonging. This will enable your child to see the value of real-world relationships and accomplishments, and find more meaningfulness outside the game world.
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