Obsessive video game playing for children can lead to addiction

Obsessive video game playing could lead to problems with children. (WCHS/WVAH)

“Put the game down!”

How often every day do you say that to your children?

The problem of video game addiction is so serious the World Health Organization recently classified it as a mental health condition called “internet gaming disorder.”

Now, a local group is adding another reason to be concerned.

Video games pull you into another world, but for some, the stay can be too long.

“He would play all day long if you let him,” Tony Saunders said about his 11-year-old son, Bryant.

That is what many parents are facing. Tony Saunders sets limits on his son’s video gaming, making sure homework, chores and school activities come first. He even plays the games with him, but sometimes, it’s not easy.

“On the weekends, he’s probably spending about five hours Saturday, probably about five hours Sunday, too. Snow days, it’s sort of ridiculous,” he said.

And there is a point where it crosses the line from fun to addiction.

Cam Adair was a video game addict for more than 10 years, starting when he was 11. Eyewitness News talked with him at his home in San Diego.

“In the eighth grade, I began to experience a lot of bullying,” Adair said.

And that bullying led to him escaping into video games.

“While all my friends were off to college, I was living with my parents in their basement playing video games up to 16 hours a day. I was very depressed. I even deceived them by pretending to have a job and eventually got to a point where I wrote a suicide note. And that’s the night I realized I had to make a change,” Adair said.

From that change rose the online support site, Game Quitters. Today, the site helps 50,000 gaming addicts a month in more than 80 countries around the world. That help includes advice for parents.

Adair stresses he is not against video gaming but recommends your child take a 90-day detox from gaming if that is all he or she wants to do.

That is because research shows gaming provides a rapid release of dopamine - a chemical in your brain that makes you feel happy. The more you game, the more your brain wants to game.

Experts say there is another, subtler side effect of gaming: gambling. First Choice Health Systems, which operates the 1-800 Problem Gamblers Hotline, warns new features on video games are luring kids to gamble.

“There are actually a lot of similarities, and they’re both basically set up on the same risk/reward system,” said Sheila Moran, communications and marketing director for First Choice Health Systems. “What we’re really finding is that kids who enjoy video gaming are getting into a cycle when they’re finding these loot boxes.”

Loot boxes are basically an app purchase that entice video gamers to buy an accessory for their gaming character.

“For instance, let’s say you pay $3 to get the mystery box, but the thing that you want isn’t in there. Well, what a lot of kids are doing is going back and spending another $3 and another. And so, in a way, it is like gambling and they are spending real money on that,” Moran said.

Moran said this trend is not good because research shows that kids are two to four times more likely to become problem gamblers than adults. All the more reason parents need to keep a watchful eye on their kids’ gaming. Tony Saunders makes sure his son understands the rules.

“Whatever amount of time you give me, what I tell you? Whatever amount of time you give me on a game?” he said, looking at his son to complete the sentence.

“I gotta go work for it?” Bryant answered hesitantly.

“He’s got to go do some type of work,” Tony Saunders said of his son. “Now you can go work soccer or basketball. This can’t outweigh everything else.”

Experts say playing video games has benefits in moderation. Here are some steps you can take to set some healthy boundaries:

  • Remove the gaming unit out of bedrooms. Put the unit in a common area such as a living room or family room where you can monitor kids' behavior.
  • Set time limits, about an hour a day, more on weekends depending on your comfort level.
  • Make gaming times more sporadic. Break up the consistency - perhaps 30 minutes or an hour, then have the child do something else.
  • Set a good example. Limit your own screen time. If you are constantly on your phone or playing video games, your child will think it's OK for him or her, too.

If you are wondering what constitutes obsessive gaming, here are some key indicators that your child could have a problem:

  • Feelings of restlessness/irritability when unable to play
  • Isolation from others – in order to spend more time gaming
  • Poor personal hygiene (such as bathing, sleeping, eating)
  • Lying about the amount of time playing video games

If your child’s gaming is interfering with school and other regular activities, experts say there is no shame in asking for professional help. Former gaming addict Cam Adair said you are not failing as a parent. This is a new thing. A lot of parents are going through it.

To find out more about Adair’s journey and his online support site, Game Quitters, click here.

Here are some other resources, which you also can find under our Eyewitness News I-Team tab.

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