Today, most young teens have a Playstation or an Xbox in their room. Many will play video games for hours, sometimes until the next morning. Many parents have a question on their minds about when a video game starts affecting their child's mental health.
When does playing video games develop into teenage video game addiction?
As a popular pastime for young adults, getting lost in a virtual world through excessive video gaming can have various effects. Family members may be right in having concerns about a possible video game addiction, while some positive effects are also there.
Often video gamers engage in virtual problem-solving skills. They may have to use creativity, and this could increase their motivation to solve a problem. In attempting to achieve goals and overcome obstacles, playing could enhance their problem-solving skills in the real world. Video game time can also enhance someone's ability to multitask.
Especially in online games, players are forced to interact with others. Even though this happens remotely, they may communicate with people from all around the world and can connect with friends through video gameplay. The cooperative nature of these games may enhance an aspect of their social skills, especially when they struggle with it in the real world.
Video gameplay can also train the brain to pay attention and pick up more visual detail. This could enhance eyesight, which has been shown to be better than in those who don't play video games.
Some games have educational purposes, and these are often ignored when considering the harms. Some promote physical movement or puzzle-solving, which can be beneficial for a person's well-being.
Excessive gaming causes the nervous system to be constantly overstimulated and in a state of hyperarousal. When the body is in this state, it produces higher levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone.
Stress from chronic hyperarousal combined with the sedentary nature of video gaming comes with physical issues, including irritability, depression, unstable blood sugar levels, and a lower immune system. Low blood sugar levels have resulted in children eating more sweets and sugary foods while playing. There are also cases where children may avoid stopping a game even when they need to go to the restroom or take a shower, which can lead to several health and hygiene issues.
Often young people become addicted to video games as a means to self-medicate. It is a way of hiding from uncomfortable or negative feelings, or sometimes situations. Video gaming can act as a coping mechanism, whereby they may deal with or avoid arguments, bad grades, or feeling sad. This is dangerous as it replaces healthy coping mechanisms, much like what happens in the case of substance abuse.
Excessive gaming could have a 'dualistic effect' on children. It may serve as a way for gamers to improve low self-esteem, or in some cases deal with symptoms of depression, but at the same time hurts their chances of having a normal social life.
When a person spends so much time on the video game console, other areas of their life are easily neglected. Even though online friendships may exist, a teen addicted to video games usually does not have many real-world friends, and they may grow more distant from family and friends with whom they were previously close.
Video gaming addiction in teens can negatively affect their academic performance in school. They may skip homework or leave it unfinished as they play video games, and go to school tired as they could play until very late.
Online gaming comes with additional pressure. Teens spend their days playing an online role, but when they log off, they miss out. Multiplayer games easily cause them to stay connected or feel guilty when they are not, since the game continues to change every second.
Going back to real life may be harder, as they could be preoccupied with what is happening in the virtual world.
When playing video games over a long period, children run the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, typically common among adults who use computers long-term at work. Carpal tunnel syndrome comes from pressure on a nerve in the wrist, which causes numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand and fingers.
Another common long-term effect is 'gamer's thumb', which is an injury that comes with tendonitis and swelling caused by the repetitive use of the thumb. More serious effects include the risk of seizures from flickering graphics, colors, and lights, especially triggering for people with epilepsy. A higher risk of obesity, cholesterol, and high blood pressure can easily arise from a lifestyle that is sedentary and without exercise.
Over time, a teenage video game addiction can change the brain. Game addiction has been considered to have similar effects on a teen's brain as alcoholism or substance abuse. A more sensitive amygdala-striatal system found in gamers who spend hours playing video games is not the only evidence. Other studies have shown decreased density of white brain matter in areas of the brains of those with internet gaming disorder, showing decreased capacities in behavioral inhibition, decision-making, and emotion regulation.
What makes an online gaming disorder or online gaming addiction occur very easily is the fact that game developers make gamers believe that success is around the corner. A gamer will retry to overcome enticing challenges countless times, as in each attempt they may feel close to unlocking the next level or completing the challenge.
It is safe to say that gaming addiction can be harmful, especially so for those who suffer from mental disorders or other health issues. But what exactly is a video game addiction, and what makes it different from someone who simply loves to play a lot?
There are signs to look out for. A video game addiction refers to continuous compulsive behavior despite negative effects on physical, mental, or social health. The World Health Organization notes gaming disorder as a mental health condition, which occurs when teens play video games to the point that it impairs vital areas of life. For diagnosis, a behavior pattern has to be severe enough to impair personal, family, social, educational, or occupational areas of functioning, and signs must be present for at least 12 months.
The risk of addiction can be passed down, meaning that there are genetic factors involved, but environmental factors can also cause addiction. Things like bullying, trauma, or the loss of a loved one can put gamers at higher risk for developing a gaming disorder.
But most importantly, increasingly playing video games can cause physical changes in the brain, making it produce more dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for feeling pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation, and is related to the brain's reward system. The release of dopamine can create the demand to have more of it, once again much like what happens in a substance use disorder.
Needing to spend more and more time gaming to be satisfied - similar to building up a tolerance to a substance- is one sign of a gaming disorder or gaming addiction. Someone who has a gaming addiction may deceive themselves and their parents about how much time they spend playing. They may also experience anxiety, and irritability when they are deprived of video games.
The following are other warning signs of video game addiction:
There are some things a person can someone do when they see their child's addictive behaviors.
Although completely banning an avid gamer from playing will probably not work, setting some rules around playing may be necessary. Unlike drugs or alcohol, a video game addiction means that a teen is tied to a computer or console. Computers often form part of everyday life, and could also be required for school work. As such, treatment centers usually advise controlled use instead of attempting abstinence.
Limiting the time a child spends gaming can greatly decrease compulsive gaming. This could come in the form of not allowing gaming time until homework is done, or only gaming on specific days of the week.
To increase social interaction with the family, and avoid a child's social isolation through video gaming, a parent could allocate some days for all family members to disconnect from electronics.
Screen time is something that can also be avoided at night. Keeping electronic devices, consoles, or computers outside of the room during bedtime can break the cycle of video game addiction, while also improving sleep.
The most popular video games are intended for children above the age of 17. Placing the gaming console in a common area of the house not only prevents children from being exposed to harmful material but also serves as a way to limit time and keep a child less isolated.
As with most challenges in life, talking about them is important and can make a big difference. Communicating with your child about gaming disorder and the effects it could have on their physical and mental health can make a difference.
Explaining the difference between success in the virtual world versus that of real life is important. Good grades at school, real-life friendships, and learning skills are more valuable than earning points in an imaginary world, and this should be conveyed to children who are addicted.
The negative effects of video game addiction can be avoided when a parent instills a balance between playing video games and doing other things. Hobbies and activities could replace video game addiction, or they can create a balance so that a child plays healthily.
If a child likes sports and group activities it should not be hard to get them involved in a sports team. But in the case that they have lost interest, something as small as taking a long walk or riding a bike with them could make a difference.
Try other activities like hiking, kayaking, camping, or rafting. Hobbies provide an opportunity to disconnect from the console and can be especially beneficial when it involves physical activity.
When stepping away from teenage video game addiction, a child may be moody, edgy, and resistant. Artistic activities are useful as they have a calming effect. Engaging in coloring, drawing, sculpting or painting are endeavors that teens can enjoy, and it could help break a video game addiction.
Seeking addiction treatment is always a good option. Concern over a child's screen time or a possible video gaming addiction can be addressed by behavioral therapy.
Similar to a gambling addiction, video game addiction is related to impulse control. Treatment for it is similar to that of other behavioral addictions, which can include individual, group, and family therapies.
Often those who are diagnosed with gaming addiction or a gaming disorder have a co-occurring mental health disorder or illness. This could include depression, anxiety, PTSD, autism, or ADHD.
Since a video game addiction is often a means for teens to deal with underlying mental health issues, treatment could be vital. Addiction specialists not only provide behavioral tools for improving video game addiction, but they also address mental health conditions.
If you are seeking treatment for your teen's video game addiction, Clearfork Academy can help. As a treatment center specifically built for today's teenagers, our treatment programs allow for continuing education as teens recover.
Our caring and experienced staff provide treatment according to a person's specific needs, in both residential and outpatient programs.