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Video games have come a long way since the days of Pong. With the advent of cell phones and online gaming, anyone can play at any time. Additionally, people, particularly young people, are spending significantly more time on the internet than in prior years. They not only play games; they use social media, stream videos, listen to music, and do research and homework assignments.

There are many studies showing that gaming stimulates the brain in good ways, including creative problem-solving, critical thinking, visual acuity, attention, and spatial memory. And while many parents make statements like, “I feel like my child is addicted to video games,” or, “Little Susie is addicted to the internet,” the majority of children and adolescents who spend a lot of time online, either gaming or engaging in other activities, are able to keep up with their responsibilities, like homework, chores, and extracurricular activities. No one can deny that the internet is a wonderful tool for homework research, socializing, and a variety of other things, including entertainment.

But gaming and overuse of the internet can also have adverse effects on the brain. Like anything that is fun or enjoyable, video gaming stimulates the pleasure center of the brain, much like an ice cream cone, or more dangerous things, like drugs or alcohol. Because of this, digital gaming and online entertainment (particularly social media) can become an obsession, interfering with your child’s daily life, preventing them from socializing, studying, and spending time with the family. Internet use, too, can have this effect, specifically in the form of constant social media presence and other, less wholesome things, such as streaming video that many people would find objectionable. If these obsessions are allowed to progress, gaming and internet use can evolve into a video screen, tech, or video gaming addiction.

The World Health Organization (WHO) now officially recognizes video gaming addiction and screen addiction as legitimate mental health disorders, having placed both in their International Classification of Diseases(ICD-10)Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders. And while there is a lot of misinformation about tech addiction in general, these addictions are very real and, if left unaddressed, can be just as serious as other addictions.

Being able to recognize the warning signs of tech addiction is the key to making sure that your child’s digital health isn’t being adversely affected. If you are concerned that your child may be suffering from one of these disorders, there are warning signs and symptoms, both emotional and physical, that you should look for.

Warning Signs of Video Gaming and Screen Addiction

If you believe your child might be at risk for one of these addictions, these are some of the things that you should look for.

Emotional Warning Signs

These are a few of the emotional warning signs and symptoms of a tech disorder:

  • A decline in school performance, such as a drop in grades or missing homework assignments.
  • Withdrawal from social events or a lack of interest in social activities like sports, parties, or hanging out with friends and family.
  • Being preoccupied with previous online or gaming activity and a heightened sense of anticipation of the next session.
  • Irritiability when unable to get online or unable to play.
  • Lying about the amount of time spent gaming or online.

If your child displays these signs, it is likely that there is a problem with their digital health.

Physical Warning Signs

In addition to emotional signs, there are physical aspects of these disorders. They include:

  • A decline in personal hygiene.
  • Headaches or migraines caused by eye strain and overly intense concentration.
  • General fatigue and malaise.

If your child displays a significant combination of these signs, it is likely that they are suffering from tech, video gaming, or screen addiction. Addressing this is important in making sure your child does not damage their digital health.

Limiting Screen Time

While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders DSM5) does not currently recognize digital addictions as true mental health disorders, the fact that the WHO has included them in the ICD-10 has opened up many treatment options. An effective option that you can implement immediately is limiting your child’s screen time. Here are some tips on how to lessen the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen.

  • Utilize Parental Controls:
    You have at your fingertips the ability to protect your child from explicit television and online content, as well as violent and otherwise objectionable games. Implement parental controls on your TV and internet to block this content and monitor your child’s online activity.
  • Be a Healthy Role Model:
    It is important that you display healthy technology habits to your children. Binging on television shows on your computer, keeping the television on all the time, or constantly scrolling through your phone, sets the tone for your child’s technology use and teaches them bad habits,
  • Become Tech Savvy:
    You can’t display healthy tech habits if you aren’t aware of the most current apps and online sites. Keep in mind that today’s young people usually know more about technology than adults. If you want to teach your child about the dangers of too much technology use, you need to be fully informed about those dangers.
  • Create Time to “Unplug”:
    Institute “tech-free time” for the entire family. Making dinner time, early mornings, and the hour or two before bedtime tech-free is a wonderful way for your entire family to enjoy quality time without the presence of digital distractions.
  • Keep the Internet out of Your Child’s Bedroom:
    You cannot monitor your child’s screen time if they have a computer, video gaming system, or television in their bedroom. Make your child’s bedroom a tech-free zone. This includes hand-held devices that many children use. Using them at night will disrupt your child’s sleep.
  • Obtain Your Child’s Passwords:
    If it fits in with your values (and depending on your child’s age), obtain your child’s passwords to social media and other online accounts. Many children, especially younger ones, cannot handle the problems they may encounter on social media, particularly cyberbullying. It is imperative that you take responsibility for keeping your child safe from these hazards. If you aren’t comfortable with obtaining their passwords, make rules surrounding which media sites are okay and which are off limits, and make it a rule that you are added as a contact or “friend” on these sites.

There are other ways to limit your child’s screen time. Create a dialogue about the hazards of too much time spent online, gaming, and watching television. A child that understands these dangers is less likely to break your rules surrounding screen time than a child who thinks their screen time is limited because their parents are “mean.” Talk to them, in an age-appropriate way, about the dangers of violent television shows, video games, and movies. Be sure to include in this dialogue the very real danger of online predators and how they put your child at risk. Don’t try to scare them; simply lay out the information in terms that they will understand.

Also encourage your child to engage in other activities, such as reading a book or playing with friends outside. The more screen-free entertainment your child engages in, the better.

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