Internet Gaming Disorder in Children and Adolescents

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 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.

This phenomenon is now widespread to the extent that children and adolescents have become increasingly addicted to this gaming habit so much so that it interferes with daily life. Recent studies and researches have classified this addiction as a disorder, thereby naming it as ‘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 kids end up sacrificing a good portion of their times well as their mental health while playing internet games, hampering their own productivity in the long run.  

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 conditions are characterized by anxiety, compulsion, and restlessness.

The diagnostic criteria for the diagnose 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 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 your kids 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. Say, if your kid spends around 5 hours daily on the computer, reduce it to 4 hours for a week, then making it 3 eventually, 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 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.

These activities will give them a much-needed sense of reality which is critical during the development years of childhood and adolescents. especially in their growing years. Taking the steps to address their 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 encircled with tabs, smartphones, and laptops with an easy internet connection and full of exciting online games, making internet gaming disorders increasing prevalent particular among children and adolescents.

The best way to prevent internet gaming disorder in children and adults alike is to limit their internet usage from the beginning. If poor habits have already formed this will not happen overnight nor will it happen easily. It may take a few weeks to a couple of months to ensure that your child overcomes addiction.

If you feel overwhelmed or frustrated about how to help your child overcome internet gaming disorder, schedule an appointment with 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.