In June, the World Health Organization officially declared video gaming disorder a diagnosable condition in the 11th edition of their International Classification of Diseases. What does video game addiction look like, who is susceptible and what should parents be watching out for?
“Alright, shut off the PlayStation. It’s time for bed.”
“Mom, just 10 more minutes!”
“You’ve already been playing for hours. That’s enough already!”
This scene probably unfolds in many homes each night, and although most kids ultimately give in, some may give parents a much bigger fight when video game time is up. In fact, just reading that video game addiction is a real diagnosis may send some parents into a panic about how much their child has been in front of the TV lately. But the WHO has specific criteria for determining whether your son or daughter is addicted or just plays games more than you may like them to.
So, what’s gaming disorder?
Gaming disorder is defined by the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases, or ICD-11, as “a pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
In order for a gamer to be considered an addict, these behaviors must be damaging to other areas of his or her life: falling behind in school or at work, trouble in relationships with friends or family and irresponsibility with other daily activities, like sleep or personal hygiene. This must go on for at least 12 months.
The American Psychiatric Association has proposed more guidelines, saying the WHO’s standards may be too vague and cause more people to be diagnosed than is accurate. In 2013, the APA added internet gambling disorder to their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM, but left out gaming disorder pending further research.
The DSM-5 says aside from causing impairment in the gamer’s life, symptoms of internet gaming disorder include:
- Continuing to game despite problems
- Deceiving family members or others about the amount of time spent on gaming
- Inability to reduce playing, unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming
- Increased tolerance, the need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities due to gaming
- The use of gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness
- Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not possible (sadness, anxiety, irritability)
Should all people who engage in gaming be concerned about developing gaming disorder?
The WHO estimates less than 3 percent of gamers are addicted, and a study published in American Journal of Psychiatry in March 2017 found only 0.3 to 1 percent might be addicted. Studies have also found the overwhelming majority of video game addicts are males under 30 years old. But both the WHO and the APA advise gamers to be aware of the amount of time spent playing games each day, especially if it leads them to ignore responsibilities or engage in other activities. Changes in physical or mental health, such as weight gain or isolation, can also be signs that gaming is becoming disruptive to life.
How many hours per day should someone play video games?
Most physicians who have been interviewed about the topic agree that children should play no more than one to two hours per day. More than this on weekdays would likely infringe on homework and sleep time, but on weekends, parents may choose to allow more when gaming doesn’t interfere with other activities.
Can gaming be beneficial?
Like most hobbies, gaming can be a helpful way to destress or enjoy downtime. WebMD does caution that some players who seem addicted may be playing games as a coping mechanism for depression, anxiety or other issues. If a loved one is using games to escape into another world or take a break from other issues, they may not need professional help for gaming addiction but rather to resolve those underlying issues.
How can parents better monitor their child’s game time?
If you’re concerned your child may be addicted to video games, don’t dismiss it as a phase, WebMD suggests monitoring your child’s behavior for a period of time. Keep good documentation of the child’s gaming behavior, including:
- Logs of when your child plays games and for how long
- Any problems resulting from or activities missed because of gaming
- How your child reacts to time limits or having games taken away
Parents may also benefit from keeping gaming systems in communal areas, like a living room, rather than in the child’s bedroom to make enforcing time limits easier. If you are concerned about the amount of time your child spends playing games or have noticed unhealthy habits surrounding gaming, talk to their pediatrician and ask their recommendations.