Is Internet Addiction Happening in Your Living Room?
The World Health Organization officially recognized "Gaming Disorder" recently. With the ubiquity of device usage by kids and teens, though, is this..you know..really a thing?
What is Gaming Addiction?
Defined as “a loss of control over gaming behavior; prioritizing gaming over other activities; continuing or even increasing time spent gaming, despite negative consequences," many parents who survived last year's "Summer of Fortnite," can relate. But concerns about technology addiction are nearly as old as technology itself. Since the 1950's, educators, parents, and politicians have been wary of excessive tv viewing and the impact on young minds.
Why is Gaming So Engaging for Kids?
Many popular games use behavioral rewards systems similar to those sticker charts that may be hanging on your refrigerator. Players receive intermittent reinforcement that keep them in the game similar to a Vegas gambler hitting the slots for hours. Also, many games create a sense of community with fellow players, and the human brain's wiring for social contact can take many forms!
What are the Risks of too much Gaming?
Physical: We know the sedentary lifestyle that can accompany excessive technology use is associated with obesity and cardiovascular disease. But new data points to additional issues, including hearing and vision loss.
Psychological: While the jury's still out on the direct contributions of gaming to aggressive behavior, we have lots of data showing psychosocial risks of cyber-bullying, sleep disturbance, and negative impacts on academics and overall family well-being.
As a Parent, What's Your Next Move?
Parents are the best at coming up with creative solutions. Some great ideas I've heard:
Family Digital Use Schedules: In addition to new settings on many products that allow for tracking and managing device use, some families choose to turn off the Wi-Fi after a certain hour for "tech free" evenings. Reading, short story writing, and drawing are great replacement activities and help facilitate the transition to bedtime. (Pro tip: Try re-setting the password in the morning and only distributing once the morning chores and routines are complete!).
Professional Help: If gaming and internet use has become all-consuming and is truly disrupting the peace in your home (think tantrums/meltdowns when it's time to turn the device off), it may be time to call in a therapist. Since some degree of technology use has become nearly mandatory to complete school work and our jobs (and also makes our lives easier), a therapist can help parents navigate smooth changes in family device practices and improve coping and overall adaptive functioning.
As it was once explained to me using the addiction framework, technology is more like a food than alcohol. These days, we're pretty much dependent on it to live. It's totally okay that some of it is only for fun, but we just need to learn how to use wisely!