How Much is Too Much: Parents Guide to Video Games

by drlazarus on October 1, 2013

An Ohio teen collapses and is rushed to the hospital after a four-day gaming stint leaves him severely dehydrated. An 18-year-old dies when he develops a blood clot after playing “Diablo 3” for 40 hours straight.

While these examples may be extreme, for some kids, gaming becomes more than just a hobby. Ninety-nine percent of boys and 94 percent of girls play video games on a regular basis, according to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Of these, recent studies place the number of youths that engage in pathological — or problem — gaming at 8.5 to 15 percent. Many parents find themselves asking, “How much is too much?” This parents guide will help you determine if your child is spending too much time gaming.

Video Game Addiction

Pathological gaming shares a number of characteristics with addictive behaviors like gambling or drug abuse, such as personality changes and cravings. However, while some kids can spend a lot of time playing video games without affecting other areas of their lives, other children get “hooked” and experience a significant impact.

Researchers have identified several characteristics and traits that seem to contribute to a higher risk of pathological gaming. These include:

  • Starting to play at a young age
  • Playing video games for more than 19 hours per week
  • Lack of social competence
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Low levels of empathy for others
  • Low self-esteem
  • Few friends
  • Family history of addiction
  • Exhibits thrill-seeking behavior

For many kids, the lure of gaming lies in the ability to become someone else in the game; a shy, awkward teen with few friends can feel dominant, popular and attractive in the virtual world of a game. The allure of this fantasy world simply becomes more appealing than reality.

Warning Signs

If you’re concerned that your child may be spending too much time playing games, keep your eyes open for these warning signs.

  • Lack of interest in any activities other than gaming
  • Talking about games constantly
  • Playing for increasing amounts of time
  • Dropping friends and activities that aren’t related to gaming
  • Lying about or hiding how much time is spent gaming
  • Feeling irritable or anxious when they’re forced or try to disconnect
  • Decreased grades and school performance
  • Sneaking to play games, such as after bed or after being told not to play
  • Staying  up late to play games and sleeping in the daytime
  • Experiencing cravings when they’re away from the game
  • Ignoring personal hygiene and skipping meals to play
  • Playing for more than 19 hours per week
  • Throwing tantrums or acting violently when forced to stop playing (Known as “Rage Quitting”)

Research indicates that addictive gaming behaviors tend to be more pronounced when kids play online, role-playing games that involve multiple players. Dr. Lazarus, a child psychologist, suggests that parents limit video games to no more than two hours per day, and keep a close eye on gaming behaviors.  School work, chores, sports, and other social activites should always be a higher priority and completed before video game time.

If you’re worried that your child is spending too much time gaming, therapy with a child psychologist can help. Dr. Steven Lazarus, a child psychologist in Littleton, CO, can help your family work though these issues together through parent consultation and individual therapy which you child.

 

Sources:

usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/gaming/story/2012-08-08/modern-warfare-3-teen-collapses/56869220/1, http://www.technewsworld.com/story/52916.html http://www.nbcnews.com/id/19354827/#.Ujn93eChDzI, http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/05/tech/gaming-gadgets/gaming-addiction-warning-signs/index.html, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2011/01/17/video-game-addiction-tied-to-depression-anxiety-in-kids, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/127/2/e319.full

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