The gaming world and the real world can seem at odds at times, especially when the potential for classifying video game behavior as addictive is on the table. On one side we have gamers who may either be playing without thought of potential consequence, gamers who are questioning the time they spend gaming, or gamers who remain in stark denial over the mounting evidence that technology could, in fact, be negatively impacting their quality of life; on the other side are worried friends and loved ones. For parents who eventually need to send their child to treatment over the deteriorating effects of video game use, the sentiment across all families are universal: ‘I wish I had done something sooner.’
Check the List
But how do I know if my child has a problem, and what are the early signs of video game addiction? It’s common that parents will not approach their child for fear of their children perceiving them as overreacting, or because they simply don’t know what to say. In the following, I will lay out the criteria that the APA is proposing for an individual to receive a diagnosis of Internet Gaming Addiction. Of the following nine criteria, five are needed for a diagnosis.
Preoccupation: Spends time thinking about video games, even when not playing them. Does your child feel like they are not mentally present during family or other activities?
Withdrawal: Feeling restless or irritable when not able to play games. Does your child become confrontational, or is there a strong change in mood when you try to limit your child’s technology use?
Tolerance: Needing to play more games in order to get the same excitement as before. Have you noticed that, over time, your child has become more and more preoccupied with their technology use?
Inability to Reduce: Attempting to play less but finding that they are not able to. Is your child finding that their want to play in transitioning into a need for gaming?
Giving up Other Activities: Is there a lack of pleasure in other activities that your child previously found enjoyable?
Continuing Despite Problems: Is your child aware of the negative impact of gaming on their life but chooses to continue gaming anyway
Deceive: Is your child hiding or lying about how much they are gaming?
Escape Mood: Is gaming becoming a way that your child handles stress or anxiety? Are they using gaming as a way to avoid or numb their feelings?
Risk: Is your child’s gaming creating risk of losing or harming significant relationships, employment, or performance in school?
Talking it Out
Communicating with your child or loved one about their gaming in an open, consistent, non-shaming way is a good way to foster honesty and trust. This can be hard sometimes, delineating ‘you’re breaking my heart with your gaming (more shame-based)’ from ‘it breaks my heart thinking that we haven’t been able to talk like we used to (more assertive-based),’ but more communication is better than none! Be honest with yourself—you deserve to feel however you are feeling in this moment. The best that you can do is share how you are feeling, specifically what your needs are. Open a dialogue with your loved one: how can we work together to both get our needs met? Communication can bridge the gap between parents and loved ones. It’s not about you vs. me; it’s about us vs. gaming, unhealthiness, and all factors that challenge our connection. To this end, we are all on the same side.