Surely there is no such thing as gaming addiction. Drug abuse? Gambling addiction? Sure! But gaming – is it really an issue?
The answer is yes, and parents and educators need to take it seriously.
In January this year (2018), the World Health Organisation recognised Gaming Disorder in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). This is heavy duty recognition that it not just about ‘kids getting over-excited’. It has been recognised as a mental health disorder.
Teenagers gaming for extended periods of time is not a new phenomenon. For over three decades, teens have been prioritising consoles over homework, itching to get home after school to connect and spending hours of their lives in front of a screen while parents worry that they are wasting their youth. I was one of these teenagers as were many of my friends. I would like to think that I turned out alright. In fact, now I teach teenagers how to build their own games and use gamification in my teaching practice.
So, when does this behaviour cross the invisible line and become an addiction? The medical criteria are that the person has ‘impaired control over gaming and there is a continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences’. For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity for at least 12 months. The most high-risk group are males aged between 12 and 20 years.
What are the signposts? A child who:
- regularly misses school because they are too tired from gaming until all hours
- truants from school so that they can participate in a raid
- has lots of online friends and doesn’t bother much with face-to-face relationships
- steals from their parents to pay for in-game purchases
- is irritable and restlessness when unable to play
- lies to friends or family about the amount of time spent playing
- prioritises gaming over just about everything else
- isolates themselves from others to spend more time online
There is also a flipside. Children are ostracised in the school grounds because they aren’t part of the online gaming trend or they are bullied because of something that has happened in an online game. Peer pressure at work.
As the Head of Digital Education, a teacher, and a mother of an 11-year-old boy, I encounter these scenarios, and others like them, on a regular basis. In my role, I am asked for advice on prevention strategies. These are some suggestions that I provide parents and colleagues:
- Put house rules in place before they are teenagers and stick to them
- Set screen time limits. Acknowledge that the adolescent brain doesn’t have the mental capacity to deal with temptations that have been purposefully designed to get them hooked
- Ban technology from the bedroom. No TV, no iPad, no PlayStation, no phone, no computer. These belong in communal areas
- Know their YouTubers. I have spent quite a bit of time learning about the YouTubers that Mr 11 watches. He also knows the rules – if I find a channel he has watched that has swearing or aggressive behaviour – he will lose his YouTube privileges
- Remove the headphones during online gaming and let the commentary come through the speaker (especially for children under 14). This way you can hear the way they are communicating, which can be a bit of a shock.
There is no one-size fits all. Just because something works for one family – it may not work for another. Adolescents appreciate structure. When they know what is expected of them, it acts as a guide as they wade through the tough decision making across all of the dimensions of their lives.
You can call Kids Helpline. If you are aged 5-25, Kids Helpline provides free and confidential online and phone counselling 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1800551800
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner also has a section of their website focusing on online gaming: esafety.gov.au