As the mama of four boys, I can tell you the latest video gaming system, handheld devices and accessories were definitely on our Christmas shopping list.
If your holidays looked anything like mine, at least one electronic device was wrapped and waiting for eager, little hands.
Electronics aren’t necessarily my favourite gifts for kids.
But as someone who works on a laptop and always has a phone in hand, I find it hard to say no to technology.
Excessive Video Gaming Now A Mental Disorder – What Parents Need To Know
We’re constantly told about the importance of monitoring screen time to ensure our kids don’t spend too much time with their eyes glued to devices. But how important is it to limit screen time?
The World Health Organization has now decided to add excessive video gaming to its list of diagnosable mental disorders.
Gaming disorder will be added to the 2018 updated version of International Classification of Diseases.
What Is Gaming Disorder?
The World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) makes it possible for physicians and other healthcare workers to make clear diagnoses.
This includes descriptions of mental health conditions, which are universally understood (e.g. your primary doctor, psychotherapist and neurologist can easily understand each diagnosis in your medical history).
A draft for the WHO’s updated ICD describes gaming disorder as:
“A pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the Internet) or offline, manifested by:
- impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context)
- increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities
- continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences”.
Essentially, gaming disorder isn’t defined simply by excessive use, but by use that interferes with daily life, family, work, education, etc.
Gaming disorder isn’t simply enjoying extra gaming time over a holiday break. It means spending so much time gaming during a holiday you miss a family dinner, or show up grudgingly and in a terrible mood, simply because you have to stop gaming.
It involves a struggle to get back to school or work after a holiday break because you’d rather be gaming. And then it morphs into poor school or work performance, because you’re distracted by gaming.
It’s about attracting negative consequences – for example, your family is upset, your boss reprimands you, or you get poor grades at school – but you don’t make any changes in your gaming habits.
Is Gaming Disorder A Real Disorder?
As a parent, I want to say, this sounds like an excuse for lack of self-control, or for poor parental supervision.
On the other hand, our children are growing up in a time where they have access to screen time and video gaming during all the years their brains are forming.
There were video games during our childhood, too. Depending on your age, maybe even your parents had access to games. So what’s the difference?
Pong and Duck Hunt were fun and entertaining, but they probably didn’t have quite as many neurological rewards that drew us to play them obsessively. They didn’t provide a genuine escape from reality like many of today’s games do.
We couldn’t create alter egos, live out our fantasies of being war heroes, or bringing down villains, and we couldn’t communicate with fellow gamers around the world.
Although they were great fun, there was little likelihood we’d be so drawn into playing these games that they would interfere with our lives.
In 2013, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defined Internet gaming disorder as a “condition for further study”. It wasn’t considered an official disorder, but something that called for further research.
According to the DSM-5, the condition is most common among males aged 12-20.
Because the WHO has added it to the ICD, medical professionals can now diagnose the disorder. Whether or not it’s accepted as a true diagnosis, being able to use the term means healthcare professionals can help their patients make healthier choices.
What Do Parents Need To Know?
As the mama of four boys, I almost want to ban video games and avoid the worry. While that certainly works in some households, I feel, in this digital age, it’s also important to help our children be technologically literate.
That doesn’t mean we give them unrestricted access (that’s not a healthy approach), but we guide their use. For education and entertainment, video games can be used in a healthy way during childhood.
Including ‘gaming disorder’ as a real diagnosis can help educate the public about the importance of making healthy choices about technology. It can help pediatricians and parents to be aware of risks and red flags, and to find ways to reduce our children’s risks.
Living in the technological age has some wonderful advantages for our children. It also has its downfalls.
One 2009 study found about 8% of people from 8 to 18 years old “exhibited pathological patterns of play”.
As parents in the technological age, we should be aware of certain things:
- Early technology use is linked to speech delays in toddlers and young children.
- Our own technology obsessions can interfere with our parenting.
- Smartphones can have an impact on family life.
- Excessive technology use, even for social purposes, can have negative health consequences for children and teens.
- Excessive screen time can damage the brain; it applies to adults as well as to young children.
Should Parents Ban Video Games Altogether?
As parents, we might think it’s easier simply to avoid technology and avert the risks. Certainly, that’s a route some families take and it works quite well for them.
However, for many modern families, technology is simply a part of everyday life.
When used in moderation, video gaming can be a safe way to improve hand-eye coordination and improve problem-solving skills. It’s a way to relieve stress, connect with other people, and live out fantasies.
Video gaming isn’t all bad. However, we need to be sure we (and our children) aren’t allowing video games to replace human interaction, or interfere with our work or education.
When it comes to video games and technology in general, moderation is the key.
Be sure to read BellyBelly founder Kelly’s experience with limiting screen time: What Happened When I Banned My Kids From Television & Other Screens.