This article originally appeared on addiction.com.
The question every parent is asking themselves these days: Are my kids really addicted to video games? It’s an important question to ask and one you’re concerned about as you’ve noticed your child glued to the computer screen, no longer interested in other activities and increasingly difficult to interact with.
It’s a concern parents ask me about often, since few are able to escape it: Nearly 100% of boys and 94% of girls under the age of 18 regularly play video games, according to author and game designer Jane McGonigal.
So, what’s the answer? Is video game addiction real?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple and the scientific community has yet to confirm the legitimacy of video game addiction. Most recently, in the DSM-5 (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition), Internet Gaming Disorder is identified “as a condition warranting more clinical research,” so many, including myself, view this as a positive development in the direction of an official diagnosis.
What we do know is that research conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has shown there are similarities between the way both gamers’ and drug addicts’ brains are triggered by a particular substance or behavior and that “gaming prompts a neurological response that influences feelings of pleasure and reward, and the result, in the extreme, is manifested as addictive behavior,” according to the APA.
A study on video and computer games published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse has also shown that playing video games “affect[s] dopamine release levels similar to those exhibited by using drugs like Ecstasy.”
So you may be right, and your child may in fact be addicted to video games, but what I think is more important is for you to understand why your child is so drawn to games in the first place, and what you can do about it.
Gamers play for very specific reasons — to fulfill certain needs. Gaming is an outlet. It’s an expression of unmet needs, so by understanding what these needs are, parents can have more influence on how games fulfill them, and also encourage their child to turn to other, healthier outlets to meet his or her needs.
This is an important distinction to make, because when it comes to games, it’s all too common to view your child as just being lazy and wanting to avoid their homework or house chores, when in reality it’s a more complex circumstance.
As a hardcore gamer for over 10 years I remember this all too well. Throughout middle and high school I experienced intense rejection and bullying that caused me to want an escape, so I isolated myself away, playing video games up to 16 hours a day. Eventually this led me to drop out of high school — twice. I was 18 with no real sense of direction.
Fortunately, my story doesn’t end there and I was able to overcome this period in my life. In the spring of 2011 I began to identify why I played games and, through this new understanding, I was able to consider how I could meet these needs in different activities, specifically ones that would have a more positive influence in my life. And over the past three-and-a-half years I’ve seen the same process work for many others as well.
In my next article I will go over the four main reasons why your child plays video games and how you can help them fulfill these needs through other activities.
But for now I want you to start a conversation with your child. Ask them what they like about the games? When do they enjoy playing them? What kind of games are they playing? Are they playing alone, or with friends? Each of these questions will allow you to gain key insights into how your child engages in games and, ultimately,their answers will help you help them shift their gaming behavior.
Until then, feel free to reach out to me with any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them in future articles.
To learn more about how to help someone you love with a gaming addiction, read Respawn.