When children receive all of their entertainment needs through video games, they develop an increasing craving for immediate gratification through playing. While studies have linked excessive gaming to mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and social phobia, it has been suggested that too much game playing can be the cause of an underlying mental health issue.
One of the most common statements parents make is: ‘It’s hard to get them off the games. I try but they just get frustrated and I give in.’
And the parents are right. It is a big challenge trying to take the kids away from games because gaming can be very addictive, and as with any addiction, kids will unfortunately have withdrawals, some not always pleasant. As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure they understand and learn how to self-regulate now so that they can take these skills into adulthood.
Depending on the severity of the addiction, it is important that frustrated parents try not to remove their child’s access to gaming devices entirely. Try to help them find a balance between gaming and time spent doing other activities.
Here are some suggestions that could help reduce the amount of time your kids spend playing games.
1. Play a video game with your child You might never have played a video game in your life but give your child’s favourite game a try. That way you will be able to find out if the game is instructive, challenging or beneficial. Once you show a willingness to understand your child, they might just listen to your suggestions.
2. Arrange indoor or outdoor activities Work with your child to come up with some alternative activities. If you are both out of practice check your local community centre or ask online mothers groups. Even look for ways to include your child’s friends. It does not need to be expensive.
3. Acknowledge your child’s offline efforts Tap into your child’s skills and talents such as playing music. Encourage your child to use their skills and praise their hard work as they progress.
4. Have meals as a family Playing video games can be a solitary activity. So, a family meal provides your child with a valuable opportunity to communicate with you. It teaches them to engage with other family members and lifts them from their isolated bubble. Encourage your child to tell you about their gaming accomplishments as well as their interests outside of gaming. Supporting your child to spend less time on games may require more hands-on time from parents.
5. Get ready for impact You have allowed your child to play video games, so expect to see a reaction when you decide to take it away from them. That reaction might be grumpiness or even aggression. This is because games trigger the brain’s reward system, causing increased dopamine levels after a barrage of stimuli is exposed. Not dissimilar to the effect drugs and alcohol has on a person, gaming addiction triggers the impulsive part of the brain, the amygdala-striatal system. An excessive gamer might find real life ‘boring’ in comparison to their fantasy worlds and will demand more gaming time. This is where you need to be firm and stick to your limits and boundaries. Be consistent so that your child knows what to expect. But don’t worry, just because your child might be acting up when you want them to put the game down, it does not necessarily mean they are addicted.
How will I know if excessive gaming is a problem?
If you are concerned about your child, there are usually obvious signs when excessive gaming becomes a problem. These include:
· Obsessive behaviour – Your child will always be preoccupied with returning to the game and display irritability, restlessness and even aggression until they can.
· Lack of sleep – Kids who play excessively often play until the early hours of morning which will result in sleep deprivation. A lack of sleep will affect their attention and learning and cause headaches and fatigue.
· Lack of physical exercise – Kids who are preoccupied with gaming will exercise less.
· Decrease in overall health – Overuse can result in carpal tunnel syndrome, dry eyes, migraine headaches and backaches. Some kids might even neglect their hygiene.
· Decreased interest in school, work and other hobbies – As gaming becomes the sole focus of a child’s life, they begin to neglect school, homework and other hobbies.
When a child loses control over gaming and it interferes with their daily life, this is cause for concern. A gaming addiction could be an indication that your child is experiencing problems or challenges in other areas of their life. They might use technology to avoid uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety. Seeking the help of a professional such a Child Life Coach will help identify if it is a concern and put strategies and give tools to help your child through this.
A child life coach provides support and assistance in all aspects of a child’s life including mental help for kids. In the case of gaming, the coach will work with the parents and child to gauge what concerns they have and will find out what methods have already been tried. The coach will encourage the family to experiment with different approaches to see what works best.
The coach might also point out the positives of gaming (challenging, fun, social skill building) and encourage parents to talk calmly with their child about the pitfalls and benefits of screen time. There might be a discussion around goals and strategies that the family can put in place, so the child develops a healthier attitude towards game playing.
If you are concerned about your child or have a question contact us!