There are more and more children and teenagers who are passionate about video games and spend so many hours playing them. Video games have enormously evolved from a technological point of view. They are more realistic, appealing, and interactive — so much so that they allow you to play online with friends or strangers from the other side of the world. The data of the National Adolescent Onlus Observatory, collected from 11,500 answers, shows that those are males who demonstrate the greatest interest in video games. Between the ages of 14 and 19, 36% of boys play about 1.5 hours a day, and 11% — between 3 and 6 hours a day. Usage of these specific devices turned out to be even more relevant among the younger children (11- 13 age group): 50% play on average 1.5 hours a day, 15% — from 3 to 6 hours, and 4% more than 7 hours.
That is one of the issues that worry parents the most — the time that children spend in front of the screen. They find ourselves not knowing how to behave with children, feel worried about their behavior and the exaggerated reactions they have to attempts to interrupt the game and are afraid of addiction development.
When can we talk about video-game addiction?
There are as many as two billion gamers in the world, and of course, video game addiction is an issue for only a small part of them. The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially recognized video game addiction a disease. The "Gaming disorder" (compulsive use of video games) has been included in the chapter devoted to mental disorders.
In practice, children remain glued to the screen without caring about everything around them. That leads to negative effects not only on psychological health but also on physical health because children cannot get to sleep or even eat, and continue undaunted fiddling with smartphones, computers, and consoles when the negative consequences are revealed.
To summarize, three distinct conditions are important to diagnose Gaming disorder:
- The total loss of control over the video game, no longer caring about the time and frequency with which one engages in the activity.
- The priority given to video games compared to other interests and activities of everyday life.
- The continuation of playing even in the presence of dire consequences.
The discomfort manifests itself when the video game comes to replace the moments dedicated to daily activities, to cancel social relations, and to favor the isolation of the child. Virtual reality can thus represent, especially in moments of fatigue and stress, an easier way to escape from reality. It offers the possibility of experiencing new and exciting emotions and sensations, identifying oneself with the character, avoiding boredom, etc.
Indeed, studies have found that some video games can activate and develop a whole series of important cognitive abilities such as problem-solving or prolonged attention. One moderate use and an adequate choice of video games can positively influence a child's growth.
Some wake-up calls can help to recognize the first symptoms of addiction:
- The increase in the number of hours spent in front of the computer/smartphone.
- A series of changes that upset the daily life, mood, and spoil the child's behavior.
Children can become apathetic, restless, and irritable. They can change some habits (food, personal hygiene), become tired because of bad sleep, play secretly, and quarrel with their parents. Some children have outbursts of anger when they don't want to stop the game, neglect school attendance, sport, and relationships with others.
The real challenge for a parent is not to ban video games but to help the child to alternate their leisure activities (sports, music, friends, etc.) and to be aware of the time's value. So dear parents, here is what you can try.
Know and get closer to their world. Children's relationship with technology can become a moment of dialogue and exchange; knowing and being interested in their hobbies can help you communicate with them.
Give greater presence and greater awareness in the relationship with your child. Try not to fall into the issue of overusing a smartphone or computer. Children aren't there to be left alone and play with smartphones, tablets, or "baby-sitter" devices for hours without taking no interest in what they are doing.