Video Gaming and Overuse of Electronic Devices
There is nothing inherently “wrong” with video games. It is true that some games are more violent than others, and parents are always advised to make the final decision about what games their child/teen plays. In the same way, access to the Internet and social media, with parents’ oversight, can be part of normal life for youth.
HOWEVER, excessive time spent on video gaming and other electronic devices has grown to become a problem in many households of middle school and high school age students. For a while, parents may complain about this, but not take it that seriously, as “so many kids are doing it” – it seems “normal.” In addition to excessive time spent, there is also concern about some of the content children and teens are accessing online, and about some of their interactions on social media.
Parents often begin to take more notice of their child/teen’s excessive time spent on video games and/or other screen use when they notice one or more of the following things happening with their child/teen:
- Neglecting other activities they used to enjoy (sports, music, scouts, other)
- Preferring to stay home rather than go out, even to the places they used to enjoy, or to spend time with extended family, friends
- Rushing through, neglecting or lying about homework to get on games/devices
- Staying up late at night on games/devices
- Sneaking onto games/devices after parents’ attempts to limit them
- Sneaking parents’ credit cards to pay for “extras” on video games
- Making secret accounts
- Becoming angry, emotionally upset, irritable, or rude when asked to stop playing games or using devices
- Not getting together with friends or going places with friends (their only social activity is online)
- Skipping meals, showers, chores while on games/devices
- Emotional reactions to being bullied on social media or simply to being exposed to upsetting content
- Posting inappropriate content on social media
- Dependency on social media as a coping mechanism when they feel upsetting emotions
- Self esteem tied to status on social media
Middle and high school students’ brains are still developing. If your child/teen is spending excessive time on video games/devices, they are not developing coping skills and social skills they will need for life. Beyond that, some children and teens may form a process addiction to their online activity. Their brains (prefrontal cortex) lack the ability to self-regulate and recognize that they should turn the game/device off for their best self-interest. Children and teens need parents to facilitate their development in this area.
When children say they are “bored,” parents often take that as a negative and rush in to try to fill the void. But feeling “bored” is an opportunity for children and teens to use their creativity to entertain, calm or focus themself. If children and teens are always going straight to games/devices, they are not developing these skills, which are necessary in adulthood.
In addition, they are missing out on other important things in life including in-person social interaction, exercise or team sports; learning – (focusing on school work; reading for pleasure); creativity through art, crafts; spending time with pets; volunteer work; developing responsibility by helping with household chores; helping other people (helping a younger sibling with homework, making a home made birthday card for grandma, mowing a neighbor’s lawn, volunteer work in the community); playing a musical instrument; exploring new interests, and much more.
While there are challenges and barriers to addressing this situation, there are steps that parents and children/teens can take. In counseling, underlying factors are explored and addressed for the goal of a healthier balance in the child/teen and family’s life.