This is a huge question that I’m going to answer as briefly as I can while still doing justice to the massive breadth of this topic. I’ve done my research, I’ve experienced gaming addiction myself, and I’ve seen its destructive power in my own life and the lives of others who have struggled with it. Yet simply telling you that it is out there isn’t my primary goal. I want you to walk away with tools to know what you’re looking for with unhealthy gaming, and resources that will help you and your gamer move forward to healthier gaming and life decisions.
As loving parents we want to see our children succeed. We want to see them grow to be healthy, thriving, happy young people and adults who go into the world and make it a better place.
Our efforts take all kinds of forms: We support them in their schooling, get them involved in sports and community events, we tell them we love them and we try to teach them right from wrong.
The easy lessons fall into the “kindergarten rules” category: Don’t lie, share with others, take naps, play nice, do your best. Then video games come along and we just don’t know what to do. How much is too much? How do we know if our child is addicted, and is that even possible? The short answer is yes.
Here’s a nice spot to start: If you’re asking “how much is too much” you’re probably there. Yes, video game addiction is real and it is powerfully destructive to the lives, happiness and health of those involved. However, not everyone who has unhealthy gaming habits is addicted. Many are somewhere along a spectrum leading toward addiction, with unhealthy habits and behaviors that, left unchecked, can develop into addiction.
Let’s start with the professionals. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is an ongoing disease and it affects the brain primarily in two ways:
- It causes the brain to pursue a single source of pleasure to the extreme
- It causes an individual to pursue extremes with one-track, pathological, intensity that show a lack of health
This means addiction causes the brain to be consumed at all times by the pursuit of this pleasure: All motivation, rewards, prioritization and even the way things are remembered will be affected by this all-consuming pursuit.
Okay, for many that doesn’t sound like your kid. Good news, right? I mean, more often than not the average kid isn’t so much pathological as much as they just enjoy playing video games. And sometimes they play them a lot. There is the occasional disobedience where they play past their time or sneak a play session and maybe they throw a tantrum when they get their gaming taken away or run out of time, but these are normal kid things. Right?
As parents we need to be doing more than just asking “How much is too much?” We aren’t trying to figure out the dosage that will kill them and then back it off, we want to make sure that we’re guiding their hearts in the direction of a healthy life.
So the real question is: Is my child’s gaming healthy? Let’s do a quick-check. Take a moment to reflect on these questions also adapted from the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). Jot down your answers and include any examples that come to mind as you go:
- Does my child show an inability to consistently Abstain
- Does my child show impairment in Behavioral control
- Does my child show Craving; or increased “hunger” for drugs or rewarding experiences
- Does my child show Diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships
- Does my child show a dysfunctional Emotional response?
Did you answer yes to any of these? Then you’ll want to read Part 2 so we can continue to dig in a bit into what this may mean for you and your gamer.