From billboards along the street to televisions in waiting rooms and at gas pumps, everywhere you look there seems to be digital screens and devices. The increased use of electronic gadgets and unlimited internet access has given rise to new gaming platforms that allow users to connect virtually with each other across the globe.
Although internet gaming is a normal recreational activity, frequent overuse can have serious consequences--the most common being internet gaming disorder.
What is internet gaming disorder?
Electronic or online gaming has become ingrained into today’s youth culture. Over 90% of children and teenagers in the United States now play video games, and they spend substantial amounts of time playing them. This phenomenon has become so widespread that children and adolescents can become addicted to gaming to the point that it interferes with daily life. Recent studies and researches have classified this addiction as a disorder, thereby naming it ‘internet gaming disorder.’
Internet gaming disorder (IGD) is defined as “persistent and recurrent use of the Internet to engage in games, often with other players, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”
Who is affected by it the most?
Children and adolescents are at greater risk of developing an internet gaming disorder, though people of any age can be affected. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association states that Internet Gaming Disorder is most common in male adolescents 12 to 20 years of age.
In most cases, these adolescents end up using a lot of their time during the day and night playing internet games, hampering their own productivity and development in other areas of life.
Symptoms of internet gaming disorder
There are striking similarities between those with other addictions such as drugs or alcohol and those who develop an internet gaming disorder. Both types of addiction are characterized by anxiety, compulsion, and restlessness.
The diagnostic criteria for the diagnosis of internet gaming disorders include the repetitive use of internet-based games, often but not always with other players, that leads to significant impairment of functioning. If five of the following criteria are met within a one year period, a child or teen likely has IGD:
Preoccupation or obsession with internet games.
Withdrawal symptoms when not playing Internet games.
A build-up of tolerance: more time needs to be spent playing the games.
The person has tried to stop or curb playing Internet games, but has failed to do so.
The person has had a loss of interest in other life activities, such as hobbies.
A person has had continued overuse of internet games even with the knowledge of how much they impact a person’s life.
The person lied to others about his or her Internet game usage.
The person uses Internet games to relieve anxiety or guilt–it’s a way to escape.
The person has lost or put at risk and opportunity or relationship because of internet games.
How can internet gaming disorder be addressed?
Asking kids, teens and young adults to immediately give up the internet and their gaming consoles altogether can be counterproductive, especially if you don’t give them an alternative to redirecting their energy. Immediately limiting their usage to 1-2 hours a day when they spend almost all their time in front of digital screens likely won’t be effective in the long run either. Here’s what you can do instead:
Parents need to take it slow, one step at a time. So, if your kid spends around 5 hours on the computer each day, reduce it to 4 hours per day for a week, then go down to 3 hours, and so on.
Give them equally exciting and productive alternatives to choose from so that they aren’t at a loss of ideas as to what to do with their spare time when playing online games is no longer an option.
Encourage them to pursue a hobby like writing, reading, cooking, or painting when you take their digital screen time away.
If your kid or teen isn’t into reading or indoor activities, you can take them out for a stroll to the nearest park, play outdoor games with them, go for swimming, hiking, camping, volunteer at an orphanage or old age home, or simply walk with them on the streets.
For young adults, you will need to find ways to figure out what you would like to do to move forward, how to limit your time online and how to give time to your other goals and interests.
These activities will give gamers a much-needed sense of reality which is critical during the development years of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. Taking the steps to address potential addiction now, will help them grow into an adult that is equipped to manage their device usage on their own.
When to seek professional help
We are inundated with tablets, smartphones, and laptops with near constant internet access and full of exciting online games. The best way to prevent internet gaming disorder in children and adults alike is to limit internet usage from the beginning. If poor habits have already formed, developing new, healthier ones will not happen overnight nor will it happen easily. It may take a few weeks to a few months to ensure that you or your child/teen overcomes gaming addiction.
If you feel overwhelmed or frustrated about how to help yourself or your child overcome internet gaming disorder and you would like some help please consider seeing a specialist, if you would like to see someone at our practice please feel free to schedule an appointment with one of the clinicians Mind Body Seven. Our team of licensed professionals specializes in work with children, teens and young adults in and around Brooklyn, New York to provide sensitive, confidential and effective help. Cynthia Solis on our team has a special interest in gaming and is a gamer herself, so she may offer special insights. Cynthia also offers virtual reality therapy for a variety of conditions.