Online Gaming: managing video game obsession
The restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 have brought with it an increased reliance on screens for us all.
Many young people are finding the social disconnection very challenging and are turning to gaming as their source of entertainment or as a way of hanging out with their friends.
While gaming has become a way of tackling loneliness or boredom, there is a huge concern that children and teenagers are immersing themselves in the online world so much so that they are developing an addictive relationship to gaming and the internet.
It can be very easy for young people to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour online, and they may find it extremely hard to break some of these habits once COVID restrictions ease.
Although gaming addiction is not currently recognised as an official diagnosis, the World Health Organisation has now listed it as a mental health disorder in the International Classification of Diseases.
Here are some warning signs that might suggest gaming is becoming problematic for your child:
- Difficulty taking a break from gaming for an extended period. Your child may be able to stop playing for a day or so, but any longer and withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, agitation or flat/depressed mood begin to emerge.
- Playing at the first available opportunity: waking up early in the morning, rushing through homework or schoolwork to get back to gaming or setting alarms to wake in the middle of night to engage in marathon gaming sessions.
- Skipping meals or eating while gaming.
- Missing school when an updated version or a new game is released.
- Protesting or becoming angry, violent or argumentative when limits are set on gaming or when asked to stop.
- Lying in order to get around time restrictions or misleading family members about the extent of time spent online.
- Preoccupation with gaming: for some, gaming seems to be their number one priority or the only activity they appear to find satisfying.
Many families are struggling to put in place effective boundaries to manage screen time, resulting in conflict and recurrent ‘screen time debates’. While it might be tempting to put in place a blanket ban on all technology, the reality is that technology is here to stay, so as parents we need to teach our children the skill of how to moderate their use.
For many children, gaming and technology is their social currency, so we need to be mindful of this when considering a more punitive approach such as removing devices altogether. Here are some tips for parents on how to manage their child’s obsession with gaming:
Establish some ground rules
Sit down as a family and set up a contract whereby certain technology rules are agreed upon and signed off. Get some buy-in by having children involved in the decision making process around what rules are fair and reasonable. You might like to use their interest in gaming as a reward for completing tasks or as an incentive to complete homework.
Be a united front
Parents need to present as a united front (regardless of whether they are separated or share custody), so that there is consistency of rules across households. Often one parent is more concerned than the other about a child’s gaming. Given children are very adept at knowing who is the more lenient parent, they will often use this to their advantage and try to manipulate the system.
Consider a tech curfew
This can be a time during the evening when all tech – phones, devices, iPads – are put to sleep. It allows children an opportunity to wind down and get ready for sleep and it also prevents secret or sneaky game playing that often happens in bedrooms after hours. Try this as a whole-house initiative (including mum and dad). This gives all family members a much needed tech break. Products such as the inchargebox (which can charge and lock up to 12 devices at once), can be really helpful in setting healthy boundaries around screen-time.
No tech in the bedroom rule
There is a clear link between technology use before bed and compromised sleep, which in turn affects a young person’s health and wellbeing, mood, behaviour, attention and concentration. A tech-free bedroom creates an atmosphere that is conducive to rest and free from temptations such as checking text messages, surfing the internet or going on social media throughout the night.
Prepare for resistance
If a child is already heavily invested in gaming, expect resistance on his part when it comes to implementing new rules around technology. You may need to consider other options such as parental control software, one example is FamilyZone, which allows parents to set firm boundaries around what their children can access online (and when they can access it).
Olivia Tims is Head of Psychological Services and Junior School Psychologist with over 20 years’ experience working with young people. This article is about Parenting
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