In 2019, the global games market was worth $152 billion. With growing concerns about the amount of time children and teenagers spend playing online games and the impact it can have, Psychotherapist Jason Shiers, shares his insight on gaming addiction in children.
81% of under 18s regularly play online games and in moderation, gaming can be fun, sociable and interactive with opportunities for children and young people to learn and solve problems. Most will not experience any harm but there are known impacts of gaming addiction in children you need to be aware of:
To access games, many platforms or developers require credit card details sometimes even for free downloads. Unless sufficient parental controls are set up – for example, password protection, spending restrictions, and alerts, separate accounts for children or unlinking credit cards from the child’s device – then parents can be stung with big bills for in-game purchases.
Games with violent, sexualised or highly realistic content (including augmented reality and virtual reality games) can also have an emotional impact on children, especially the younger kids. It’s a controversial area with conflicting research but a study from Science Daily has linked violent video games to aggression in young people.
Gaming can be a social activity. Whether playing with siblings on a console or competing with friends online, there are benefits for social development in gameplay. Increasingly, children and young people are playing games online. In 2018, Ofcom found that three-quarters of 5-15-year-old gamers only ever play online – up from two-thirds in 2017.
It’s understandable to believe that if you can get your child’s gaming under control, then everything will return to normal. However, every addiction is best understood as a symptom rather than the problem. For this reason, telling your child to reduce their gaming, punishing them for breaking rules or restricting their access to devices, probably won’t solve their difficulties permanently.
The key to real change is this – what is so distressing or unsatisfactory about your child’s life when s/he is not gaming? To overcome gaming addiction, your son or daughter will need help to discover the answers to this question, as well as learning how to cope in healthier ways.
Of course, it’s an important step for your child to acknowledge the consequences of harmful gaming, including how health, relationships, education and finances are affected – but this is only the start. Lasting recovery from gaming disorder comes through awareness and emotional resilience. Your child needs to know how to recognise and handle emotional distress including when they crave game play.
See more resources and articles to support children online: