Video games are a popular pastime for millions of teenagers. Most teens play for a few hours per week, when they have free time after homework or sports practice. For some, however, video games grow into much more than an occasional source of entertainment. Teenagers can become obsessed with gaming, spending four or more hours each day on the computer, TV, or their phones in a cycle of compulsive behavior that can harm their performance in school and their social development.
Gaming negatively impacts academic performance by taking up so much time that not enough is left for homework, to study for exams, or to get a good night’s sleep before class. Similarly, with little time to socialize in person with friends and family, teenagers who are obsessed with gaming may not develop the skills they need to communicate effectively in college or in the workplace. Over time, this lack of socialization can impact their ability to form relationships with friends, coworkers, and romantic partners.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to curb obsessive gaming. The first thing is to set limits. Be open about your concerns with your son or daughter, and make gradual changes with their input to get your teen down to less than two hours per day, which is the maximum amount of “screen time” per day recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Screen time includes all time a teen spends in front of a TV, tablet, smartphone or computer. Also, work with your teen and other family members to establish media free times, such as during dinner, and media free zones, such as your teen’s bedroom. By setting and enforcing limits, you can help your child get back on a regular schedule.
If limit-setting fails, or you encounter significant resistance, it’s worth taking a closer look. There may be a larger issue at hand. For example, if your child is being bullied at school, or is overly shy and introverted, the virtual spaces in video games could offer a desperately-wanted escape from real world stressors.
Anxiety and depression are common in teenagers, with 1 in 5 teens experiencing depression at some point during adolescence. If you are concerned that a mental health issue may be driving your teen’s obsession with gaming, the best thing to do is to contact your pediatrician. Your doctor can help determine what is going on and provide support and assistance to your son or daughter.
And if you have questions or for additional support, don’t hesitate to reach out to a BeWell staff member. BeWell staff are trained on a wide range of health topics, including video game obsession, and they would be happy to help. They can also connect you to quality, affordable healthcare for your teen, if you need a referral to a pediatrician or to a counselor.
American Addiction Center: