Do You Recognize the Warning Signs of Video Game Addiction?

“I feel like he is addicted to video games!”

This worry is becoming more and more common among parents. For most, it just means that their child loves technology and has a difficult time unplugging. For some, it means that their child is choosing technology over most everything else and is struggling to cope.

Two teenage boys playing video games

What’s the difference between liking gaming and video game addiction?

Most young people spend a lot of time with their devices. Indeed, the average American teenager clocks an average of nine hours of technology use daily. The overwhelming majority of these young people also do their homework, keep up their responsibilities, and have other interests. Yet adults and young people alike report feeling increasingly concerned that technology takes up too much time and attention in their lives.

Does this mean that young people are at risk of being addicted? It depends upon whom you ask. There is significant disagreement among clinicians and researchers about whether video game addiction warrants a clinical diagnosis. In 2013 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) did decide that internet gaming disorder warranted further research and study but did not include it as a formal diagnosis in the latest manual. On the other hand, the World Health Organization did recently include “gaming disorder” in the International Classification of Diseases.

Is video game addiction real?

Researchers studying the issue have come up with a variety of terms for the problem including pathological play, compulsive internet use, or problematic internet use, among others. It has also been hard to pin down the scale and scope of video game addiction. One review of studies focusing on American adolescents and college students found a range from zero to 26% for problematic Internet use reflecting a range of definitions, measures, and samples.

We won’t go into the challenges that make drawing conclusions about internet addiction complicated. However, while researchers continue to learn more and debate the diagnostic approach, it is clear that a small percentage of young people do need help. These are not just young people who really like playing video games or going online. These are young people for whom the Internet or gaming has interfered with their ability to function and thrive.

One parent whose high school student spends forty-three hours a week playing online games makes this clear: “His grades have plummeted, he skips meals, and he hardly spends any time with his friends.” This teenager can’t wait for the scientific community to agree before he gets the support he needs to address video game addiction and get on the road to wellbeing.

More Accurate Language: Problematic Interactive Media Use

As opposed to talking about video game addiction, Dr. Michael Rich at the Center for Media and Child Health prefers to talk with families and adolescents about Problematic Interactive Media Use (PIMU). He argues that it is less stigmatizing and opens up important conversations not only about gaming but about information seeking, online pornography, and social media as well.

If you are worried that any of these practices have gotten in the way of your child’s daily life, look for warning signs including:

  • Poorer personal hygiene;
  • Decrease in school performance; and
  • Social withdrawal.

If you are worried

We created an Internet Addiction Symptom Checklist that you can run through to see if you think your child might need extra support. Many times, video game or Internet over-use occurs alongside other mental health conditions so just addressing the tech components may not get your child the support they need. If you think that your child does have a problematic relationship with technology, check out the Center on Media and Child Health resources and reach out to your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional to get an evaluation that will help you get a full picture of what is going on.

There is no need to panic that your child is becoming addicted just because he or she spends a lot of time online or you have power struggles over games. On the other hand, don’t ignore signs of a real problem if you see them. We’ve created a tool for adults who are worried that video games are taking over their child’s life called the I’d Rather Inventory for Digital Wellbeing. While this is not a diagnostic tool, it is a helpful “first pass” to help you determine whether or not gaming or Internet use is becoming a problem.