Our kids are exposed to ‘screentime’ progressively more, as we think of new and wonderful ways to digitise our world. Gaming has become the new status quo of play… we see less kids in trees, and more kids with their heads in some sort of device.
When did this become an issue for psychologists? Well, what we are seeing is a phenomenon of addiction to gaming. Think about when we get a notification on our phones.. we check the notification and our brain gives us a shot of dopamine and oxytocin (the happy hormones) and reduces cortisol (our stress hormone). This process occurs with drugs such as cocaine. So, when we expose little minds to a flood of dopamine and oxytocin, they become addicted and have ‘withdrawals’ when not playing. Our adult brains are better equipped to manage our usage and to regulate our impulses (yeah I could watch YouTube but I gotta go to work today!). Little brains don’t yet have this capacity.
The results range from mildly problematic to devastating. We see children’s school participation reduce and school refusal increase; we see levels of low mood and anxiety increase; children experience behavioural disruption, and overall psychosocial development is impacted. Physical development is also impacted; children are spending less time outdoors engaged in gross motor activity, sleep patterns are disrupted, and posture is affected from prolonged periods of looking down at the screen.
It’s not all bad news… some research has shown benefits to gaming. For instance, life satisfaction was rated as higher by a group of teens playing moderate levels of gaming, fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination are utilised, and some games assist with cognitive development such as planning, organising, and problem solving.
So how do we find the balance between healthy gaming and problematic gaming? Well, one study found that the positive effects of gaming diminish after one hour of play per day (Przybylski, 2014), which may serve as a good guide.
Some helpful ways to manage gaming:
- Keep devices out of the bedroom
- Negotiate and stick to time limits for gaming
- Observe how gaming is affecting your child (emotionally, socially, and academically)
- Provide other activities at home for your children, and help them to initiate the activity (e.g., spend 5 minutes in the sandpit or starting to build a fort outside for younger children, invent a new pizza or make a movie for older children)
- Keeping kids involved in sports or hobbies is an excellent way to promote a healthy mind and body
If you are concerned that your child may be addicted to gaming, speak with your GP or Psychologist for professional help.