Children and Video Games: Managing Video Game Addiction in Children

Playing video games has become a popular activity for people of all ages. Video gaming is a multibillion-dollar industry bringing in more money than movies and DVDs. Children and adolescents can become overly involved with video games. They may have difficulty controlling the amount of time they play. They may resist their parents’ attempts to limit their time playing video games. Spending excessive time playing these games can lead to:

  • Less time socializing with friends and family
  • Poor social skills
  • Time away from family time, schoolwork, and other hobbies
  • Lower grades
  • Less reading
  • Less exercise and becoming overweight
  • Decreased sleep and poor-quality sleep
  • Aggressive thoughts and behaviors

For kids and teens 5 to 18 years, experts recommend that parents place limits on time spent using any media. This includes playing video games on gaming consoles, tablets, or smartphones. Using media should not take the place of getting enough sleep or being physically active. Therefore, consider setting limits to keep game-playing from interfering with schoolwork, household chores, and the physical activity your child needs every day. Make sure your child has other appealing choices: sports, activities, chances to socialize with friends, and downtime to be creative.

Like a lot of aspects of raising kids, when it comes to video games, the healthiest approach is moderation. In moderation, playing age-appropriate games can be enjoyable and healthy. Some video games may promote learning, problem-solving and help with the development of fine motor skills and coordination. However, there are concerns about the effect of video games on young people who play videogames excessively.

Make sure that your child is playing games suitable for his/her age group. Store-bought video games are evaluated by the Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB) and rated for their appropriateness for children and teens. The ratings are featured prominently on the game packaging. Steer clear of any rated “M” for “mature.” Those are for ages 17 and older, and can contain heavy-duty violence, strong language, and sexual content.

Studies of children exposed to violent media have shown that they may become numb to violence, imitate the violence, and show more aggressive behavior. Younger children and those with emotional, behavioral, or learning problems may be more influenced by violent images.

Some games might improve kids’ hand–eye coordination and problem-solving skills. Video games that require kids to move or manipulate the game through their own physical movement can even get sedentary kids moving — but not as much as if they played outside or did sports. Other games don’t have such benefits, and violent video games have been shown to increase kids’ aggressive behavior.

Parents can help their children enjoy video games appropriately and avoid problems by:

  • Avoiding video games in preschool-aged children
  • Checking the ESRB ratings to select appropriate games—both in content and level of development
  • Playing videogames with their children to share the experience and discuss the game’s content
  • Setting clear rules about game content and playing time, both in and outside the home
  • Monitoring online interactions and warning children about the potential dangers of Internet contacts while playing games online
  • Allowing video game playing only in public areas of the home, not in the child’s bedroom
  • Remembering that you are a role model for your children including which video games you play and how long you play them
  • Enforcing total screen time limits
  • Ensuring video games are only played after homework and chores are done
  • Encouraging participation in other activities, particularly physical activities

Keep the video game console in a common area of the house, not your child’s room. That way you can catch any inappropriate content in the games she/he plays, and she/he will be in a position to interact with others. In addition, pay attention to time spent playing games on smartphones and tablets.

If you continue to have concerns about your child’s gaming habits or if your child is having difficulty with mood or behavior, ask your child’s pediatrician, family physician, or school counselor to help arrange a referral to a trained and qualified mental health professional.

This article is provided by Dr. Ralph Kueche (Child Psychologist). Dr. Kuechle is a Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist who specializes in treating children and their families who may be struggling with mood and behavioral issues. learn more about Dr. Kuechle.