On Your Mind: Is video game addiction a real thing?

Is “video game addiction” a real thing? I’m afraid my teenage son might have it because he gets really frustrated when we limit his gaming time. Is there any evidence that shows that playing video games has any long-term damage on psychological health? My son’s argument is that we wouldn’t be limiting his time if he was playing basketball or soccer, and he feels that “e-sports” like video games are just as legitimate as other sports. (A university in California has even started offering scholarships for “varsity” video gamers.) Any advice on how to reach a healthy compromise on this topic?

Response by Abby Stanfill, LPC, of Ozark Guidance

Thank you for your question. Video game addiction is not currently a recognized diagnosis but it can have ‘addiction-like’ qualities. Let me assure you there are hundreds of other parents asking and debating these very same questions.

Age-appropriate video games that are played in moderation can actually have some benefits, such as fostering resilience, strengthening problem-solving skills, improving cooperation, and improving hand-eye coordination. Video gaming can be a fun activity for children to engage in and unwind after a day at school. Recent studies even show that children that engage in moderate video gaming tend to be more social and satisfied with life than children who do not play any video games at all.

When video games begin to dominate a child’s life, however, it becomes too much of a good thing. Research shows this can lead to irritability, isolation, a sedentary lifestyle, sleep disturbances, hyperactivity, impulsivity, depression, aggression, difficulty relating to peers, and other negative impacts on mood, behavior, and social interactions. When family relationships and friendships begin to suffer as a result of excessive video gaming, it may be time to put some limits in place.

The good news is that there are some reasonable limits that can be set to still allow your son to engage in video games, yet also encourage physical activity, relational connection, and exposure to nature, all of which are necessary to live a healthy lifestyle.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting video games to one hour per day. Children often have a difficult time stopping at the hour mark so in order for them to abide by this guideline you may need some consequences. Natural consequences would be great in situations like this. For example, for every minute they go over an hour, they lose a minute the following day. If you don’t like the idea of video games being played daily, you can designate certain days as ‘non-electronic’ days.

Time management can be taught by allowing your son to manage his own game time. For example, you can give him a total amount of time for the day or week that he can play video games. He then gets to choose how he wants to use that time. If he doesn’t manage it appropriately (maybe going over the allotted time for the day/week), he loses that privilege the next week.

Additional ideas for limit setting include trading a 30-minute physical activity (known to promote a healthy lifestyle) with 10 minutes of video game time, allowing your son to earn extra game time by completing chores or interacting with family or peers, designating game-free times such as during dinner, or having a video game ‘curfew’.

Lastly, a great tool to help in developing a ‘family media plan’ is found by clicking here on the Healthy Children website. You can create a personalized family media use plan based on your child’s age. This can help you think about goals and rules surrounding video game use and other technology that will align more with your family’s values. Whatever plan you develop, it’s important to communicate the goals, purpose, and consequences in order to establish clear guidelines.

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click here to read more questions and answers in the On Your Mind category. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.