How do I know if my kid is addicted to gaming?

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Anonymous, MO
6/6/2024
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Many video games are designed to keep kids engaged by creating rewarding experiences that cause the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that causes feelings of pleasure. As your child’s brain associates playing video games with dopamine, it can drive them to return to gaming again and again, creating an addictive behavior. 

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Here’s what parents should look out for: 

  • They consistently have trouble spending time without access to video games 
  • They are deceptive with their use such as sneaking around to use tech/play video games, or lie about this use.
  • It is difficult to get them to disconnect once they start playing a game - they may become combative or defensive  
  • They use technology and video games as a tool to boost their mood 
  • Gaming disrupts sleep, performance at school, and interpersonal relationships
  • They complain that they are unhappy or bored when they cannot access their gaming devices
  • Needing to spend increasingly more time gaming to feel satisfied 
  • They cannot stop thinking about video games and talk about it frequently when not playing it 
  • Changes in mood and emotions such as irritability, feelings of emptiness, sudden outbursts of anger, emotional numbness, or a lack of motivation
  • Withdrawal from social interactions or isolation from friends and family. 
  • They are unable to engage in social activities without playing video games. Example: playing while at the dinner table and unable to engage in conversation when not on tech 
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities

If you spot 2-3 of these signs in your child, it may be cause for concern and is important to seek support from a mental health professional. With the help of mental health coaching and therapy your child can connect with the emotions that gaming (and reducing gaming) brings up, set goals to improve their screen time, and learn tools for disconnecting. For more information on gaming, check out the family guide to gaming.

It’s important to note that no two kids are alike, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all method to determine that a child may be addicted to gaming. However, there are several important warning signs to be aware of. 

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