Do You Recognize the Warning Signs of Video Game Addiction?

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“I feel like he is addicted to video games!”

This worry is becoming more and more common among parents. For most, it just means that their child loves technology and has a difficult time unplugging. For some, it means that their child is choosing technology over most everything else and is struggling to cope.

What’s the difference?

Most young people spend a lot of time with their devices. Indeed, the average American teenager clocks an average of nine hours of technology use daily. The overwhelming majority of these young people also do their homework, keep up their responsibilities, and have other interests. Yet adults and young people alike report feeling increasingly concerned that technology takes up too much time and attention in their lives.

Does this mean that young people are at risk of being addicted? It depends upon whom you ask. There is significant disagreement among clinicians and researchers about whether Internet or gaming addiction warrants a clinical diagnosis. In 2013 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) did decide that internet gaming disorder warranted further research and study but did not include it as a formal diagnosis in the latest manual. On the other hand, the World Health Organization did recently include “gaming disorder” in the International Classification of Diseases.

Is video game addiction real?

Researchers studying the issue have come up with a variety of terms for the problem including pathological play, compulsive internet use,6 or problematic internet use, among others. It has also been hard to pin down the scale and scope of the problem. One review of studies focusing on American adolescents and college students found a range from zero to 26% for problematic Internet use reflecting a range of definitions, measures, and samples.

We won’t go into the challenges that make drawing conclusions about internet addiction complicated. However, while researchers continue to learn more and debate the diagnostic approach, it is clear that a small percentage of young people do need help. These are not just young people who really like playing video games or going online. These are young people for whom the Internet or gaming has interfered with their ability to function and thrive.

One parent whose high school student spends forty-three hours a week playing online games makes this clear: “His grades have plummeted, he skips meals, and he hardly spends any time with his friends.” This teenager can’t wait for the scientific community to agree before he gets the support he needs to get gaming back in balance.

Problematic Interactive Media Use

As opposed to talking about Internet Addiction, Dr. Michael Rich at the Center for Media and Child Health prefers to talk with families and adolescents about Problematic Interactive Media Use (PIMU). He argues that it is less stigmatizing and opens up important conversations not only about gaming but about information seeking, online pornography, and social media as well.

If you are worried that any of these practices have gotten in the way of your child’s daily life, look for warning signs including:

  • Poorer personal hygiene;

  • Decrease in school performance; and

  • Social withdrawal.

We created an Internet Addiction Symptom Checklist that you can run through to see if you think your child might need extra support. If you think that your child does have a problematic relationship with technology, check out the Center on Media and Child Health resources and reach out to your child’s pediatrician or school social worker or counselor for next steps.

There is no need to panic that your child is becoming addicted just because he or she spends a lot of time online or you have power struggles over games. On the other hand, don’t ignore signs of a real problem if you see them.

We’ve created a tool for adults who are worried that video games are taking over their child's life. While this is not a diagnostic tool, it is a helpful "first pass" to help you determine whether or not gaming or Internet use is becoming a problem.

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For your reference:

  1. Common Sense Media (2015). The Common Sense Census: Media Use By Teens and Tweens. Access at: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/research/census_executivesummary.pdf
  2. Pew Research Center. (2015). Technology device ownership: 2015. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/29/technologydevice-ownership-2015/
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Internet Gaming Disorder. Access at: file:///Users/erinwalsh/Downloads/APA_DSM-5-Internet-Gaming-Disorder.pdf
  4. Byun, S., Ruffini, C., Mills., JE, et al. (2009). Internet Addiction: Metasynthesis of 1996-2006 Quantitative Research. CyberPsychology & Behavior. 12(2). Pp. 203-207.
  5. Meerkerk G-J., Van Den Eijnden, R., Vermulst A., Garretsen H. (2009). The Compulsive Internet Use Scale (CIUS): Some Psychometric Properties. CyberPsychology & Behavior. 12(1). Pp. 1-6. Pp. 797–805.
  6. Caplan SE. (2002). Problematic Internet Use and Psychosocial Well-Being: Development of a Theory-Based Cognitive–Behavioral Measurement Instrument. Computers in Human Behavior. 18(5). Pp. 553-575
  7. Moreno, M. A., Jelenchick, L., Cox, E., Young, H., & Christakis, D.A. (2011). Problematic Internet Use Among US Youth: A Systematic Review. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 165(9), Pp. 797–805.
  8. Center on Media and Child Health. (2014). Issue Brief: Internet Addiction. Access at: http://cmch.tv/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Issue-Brief-Internet-Addiction.pdf
  9. Common Sense Media (2016). Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy and Finding Balance. Access at: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/technology-addiction-concern-controversy-and-finding-balance
  10. Center on Media and Child Health. Problematic Interactive Media Use. Access resources at : http://cmch.tv/parents/pimu/
  11. McGonigal, J. (2015). Super Better: The Power of Living Gamefully. New York, NY: Penguin.
  12. Jones, C. Et. al., (2014). Gaming Well: Links Between Video Games and Flourishing Mental Health. Frontiers in Psychology. 5, 260.