Avoiding videogame addiction in children


Dear Adele

Our two children, ages nine and 12 seem to spend a lot of their free time playing video games or on apps on their smart phones. We are beginning to wonder if they might be getting addicted. We also are unsure what is a reasonable amount of time per day to allow for this activity. Can you help Adele?

Keeper of the Gates


Dear Keeper of the Gates,

Tablets, computers, cell phones and portable gaming systems are ubiquitous today and video games have become one of the most common forms of entertainment for our young people. When not gaming they seem to enjoy apps on their cell phones which connect them with others through social media. Screens are everywhere and usage is creeping upward. You are wise to educate yourself about the possibility of videogame addiction and how to assist your children in avoiding it.

Gaming disorder is now listed in the International Classification of Diseases and is defined in a Canadian Press article entitled ‘Videogame addiction and disorder. WHO says so” as ‘the behaviour characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities, to the extent gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continues the escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.’

A Canadian Association of Mental Health study found in 2016 that approximately 13 per cent of Ontario’s students had symptoms of video gaming disorder, up from 9 per cent in 2007. One in five boys demonstrated problematic symptoms around video gaming. An article entitled “We’re designing minds- industry reveals secrets of addictive app trade” states that the average Canadian teenager is on track to spend nearly a decade of their life staring at a smart phone. The article goes on to say that “heavy technology use affects our overall well-being including memory, concentration, mood, sleep, anxiety, and depression.” A Canadian Mental Health Association study of Ontario teenagers found that the use of smart phones is on the rise. Sixteen per cent are spending more than five hours per day on social media with side effects that include less activity, the fear of missing out, anxiety, agitation, withdrawal and stress.

An article entitled “Video Game Addiction Statistics” by The Recovery Village, in 2020, reports that 64 per cent of the American population are gamers. Gaming was a $131 billion industry in 2018 and is expected to grow to $300 billion by 2025. The most addictive games are massively multi-person online role-playing games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft, Fortnight and EverQuest. Average male gamers are 33 years old and average females are 37 years old. Ninety-four per cent of addicts are male and 69 per cent are Caucasian. Males ages 18 to 24 are most at risk. Harmful effects include sleep disruptions, eating problems, isolation, seizures, deterioration of school, career and financial success. Coexisting disorders include depression, anxiety, ADHD and autism.

So how to avoid letting your child to become a videogame addict you are asking Keeper of the Gates? Let me offer you a few tips.

1: Control the amount of time your child is allowed to play games. About one hour a day seems reasonable for most families.
2: Ensure that your child has many ways to have fun in his/her schedule e.g. competitive sport, musical instruments, volunteer activities, reading, free play, exercise
3: Ensure that your child completes all his/her responsibilities before having access to video games e.g. schoolwork, chores, practices
4: Consider having your child earn gaming time in 10- minute modules, in exchange for the completion of activities you prefer. Keep a written record or exchange tokens to represent earned time.
5: Be sure to review the games your child plays and that you are comfortable with the focus and the values. Avoid MMORP games as they are riskier for addictions.
6: Understand parental controls and use them.
7: Keep the gaming equipment in a family area of the home rather than the bedrooms.
8: Supervise your children and enforce the rules. Consequence violation of the rules.
9: Restrict smart phones to your children in high school.
10: Establish tech free family time in the home especially around meals.
11: Turn off notifications.
12: Model appropriate technology use for your children.
13: Seek professional medical assistance should you observe over- use of technology or any of the symptoms described as problematic in this article.

I wish you well, Keeper of the Gates. Let me conclude with a few quotations related to my topic which might make you smile:

When I grow up, I want to marry a grown man addicted to playing video games.” — Said Nobody Ever

“Your password must contain an uppercase letter, a number, a haiku, a gang sign, a hieroglyph and the blood of a Virgin.” — Someecards user card

“Addiction: When you can give up something anytime, as long as it’s next Tuesday.” — Nikki Sixx

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at maryadeleblair@gmail.com and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

Photo: Melanie These, Unsplash