Children’s gaming addiction: what is it and how to spot the signs

This is Children’s Mental Health Week and, unsurprisingly, many parents are discovering new causes for concern.

Predictably, reliance on technology is a recurring discussion when it comes to young people’s mental wellbeing – and the surrounding statistics don’t offer considerable comfort!

For example, research has found that a parent’s greatest concern when it comes to their child’s smartphone use is the potential for them to talk to strangers. Yet, it’s also been suggested that almost half of children will own a mobile phone by the age of 7. Combine this with the notion that many children have never known a life without exposure to social media and the situation can all seem slightly dire. However, parents can take some comfort in the fact that there is now widespread awareness surrounding phone use among young people.

But a growing issue that parents might not know how to tackle is a different strain of technology altogether – gaming.

So, what is ‘gaming disorder’ and how can you spot the signs?

What is gaming addiction?

In 2019, at the 72nd World Health Assembly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) unanimously voted to recognise video game addiction as an official illness within The International Classification of Diseases

This decision was met with differing reactions. Global industry bodies expressed immediate and passionate upset upon hearing this, with many claiming that the disorder’s ‘symptoms’ are actually the symptoms of more severe and underlying mental health issues unrelated to an individual’s gaming tendencies. Additionally, some industry leaders chose to instead emphasise the positive effects of gaming – such as the focus on creativity.

However, none of these reasonings could sway the decision to classify gaming disorder as a mental health condition. As such, the illness is placed in parallel to those such as alcohol addiction, drug addiction and gambling addiction.

Not unlike these other addictions, gaming disorder is diagnosed when the individual’s behavioural tendencies are severely impacted – making even the most mundane, everyday activities a struggle. The WHO more specifically identified that:

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”

The organisation has expressed that in classifying this illness, it hopes to increase awareness and, in turn, available treatments. They further detailed:

“[the inclusion] will result in the increased attention of health professionals to the risks of development of this disorder and, accordingly, to relevant prevention and treatment measures.”

And, arguably, this is true.

Following the classification of gaming disorder as a mental health condition, the NHS announced in October of last year that it will be launching the country’s first specialist clinic for gaming addiction in children.

These advancements are undeniably much needed and a step in the direction, however, it has prompted many parents to question their child’s relationship with gaming and technology.

So, what are the tell-tale signs of gaming addiction in a young person?

How to spot the signs of gaming addiction

The most important thing to remember when worried about your child’s relationship to gaming is that an enthusiasm and genuine passion for the games they are participating in does not equate to addiction. So, if your child refuses to stop their game to come to the dinner table – don’t panic!

Instead, look for the following three behavioural indicators:

·         Physical indicators of sleep deprivation

When suffering an addiction, the habit itself often exceeds the physical need for sleep. So, if you’re noticing a lack of energy or difficulty in staying awake then this could be a contributing effect of addiction.

·         Antisocial behaviour toward family and friends

If your child is maintaining a healthy social life at home and at school, then often there isn’t a cause to worry. However, if they begin to demonstrate a lack of care in maintaining these relationships then this could be a sign that something isn’t quite right.

·         Obsessive nature towards the game

We can all get a bit caught up in a game, and this is often our competitive nature taking charge, but if this competitive streak turns into an obsession then it needs to be addressed.

An indicator could be if your child continually talks about the game and becomes irritable when asked to stop. Additionally, it might be that they can sit and play for hours on end with no break – becoming completely absorbed in the virtual reality.

My child is demonstrating signs of addiction; what should I do?

An integral part of the understanding and managing of your child’s gaming relationship is to not self-diagnose as this can often lead to unwarranted panic. Of course, it is natural to feel anxiety, however, it is not beneficial to you or your child to make ill-informed assumptions.

If you’re worried about your child’s mental wellbeing, then consult a medical professional and seek their advice.

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