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Could video games be addictive? Parenting in the age of screens

The World Health Organization recently classified "gaming disorder"—impaired control over gaming—as a disease.  

The American Psychological Association (APA) isn't ready to go that far, yet. It states more research needs to be done and more cases need to be documented before making that claim.  

While I agree with the APA, I have seen in my own practice patients who are dependent on and experience withdrawal symptoms from video games. Using what is known about other addictions, I would say these children are addicted to video games.  

This leaves parents with the vital responsibility of paying close attention to what our kids are doing and seeing on screens. And it's not just video games—we need to be aware of all on-screen media.  

What kind of content can be most addictive?

  • A wide variety of online activities are engaging enough to be potentially addictive, including video games, social media, smartphone use, texting, streaming videos and online pornography.
  • Multiplayer online video games are most consistently related to addiction in research. They offer a mix of escape, socialization, competition and the ability to continue reaching a higher level by mounting up achievements and rewards.  

What's the right amount of screen time?

I don't have a recommendation for video games specifically but can offer suggestions by age for any screen time: 

  • Under 18 months: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids this young have no screen time.
  • 18-24 months: Small amounts are OK. Think of it as introduction to screens.
  • Ages two to five: Limit to one hour per day, and it's a good idea for parents to watch with their kids to monitor what's being seen.
  • School age kids: The AAP does not offer a specific "maximum time" guideline for kids age six and older but recommends limiting screen time to ensure it's not impacting sleep, physical activity, socializing or time with parents. My recommendation would be no more than two hours a day for school-age children on any electronic media to ensure kids are getting all their other needs met. As kids get older, they may be expected to do school work on screens, so you do have to allow for that.

Monitor what your kids and teens are doing

  • When kids are school age and younger, closely monitor what they are seeing on smart phones and tablets. It is all too easy for them to accidentally find content that could be traumatic for them.
  • As kids move into the teen years, try to keep an open dialogue with them. This is important as they become more independent, making it harder to monitor what they are seeing and playing all the time. Share what you're watching with them and encourage them to talk about what they are doing and seeing online.
  • Have ongoing communication with children as they get older about safety and treating others respectfully online.
  • Designate media-free times together and screen-free locations (like bedrooms). It's best if electronic media use is limited to common rooms in the home like living rooms.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

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