If your teen enjoys passing the time gaming, you likely already know that video games are rated by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) for age appropriateness—sports games like “Madden NFL” are often rated ‘E’ for Everyone, musical participation games like “Rock Band” are usually rated ‘T’ for Teen, while first-person shooter games like “Call of Duty” are rated ‘M’ for Mature. Deciding which games you allow your teen to play is an important part of parenting a gamer.
But there’s one thing you may not know: All video games are rated ‘A’ for Addictive. That is, at least, according to an article published by Psychology Today that states, “Addiction used to be a term reserved for drug use defined by physical dependency, uncontrollable craving, and increased consumption due to tolerance.” Drugs “hijack” our dopamine production (a neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s pleasure center) and cause a release of up to 10 times the normal amount, making the user crave the drug, even if it means participating in self-destructive behavior that results in negative consequences. With more and more scientific research being published on the subject, we are finding that video games can take hold of the gamer’s neurotransmitter functioning in an eerily similar way to drugs and alcohol, resulting in a powerful video game addiction.
If you’re concerned about your child, prevention is key. Here are five signs of video game addiction, and what you can do to help prevent it.
1. They feel the need to play video games several hours every day
Modern-day teens aren’t known for their love of the outdoors, but if your teen enjoys holing up in a dark room to play video games for hours on end, he or she may have a problem.
2. They’re slowly falling away from normal social and extracurricular activities
Teens often begin feeling personal connections to other gamers across the globe, and may begin shying away from real life activities. Withdrawing from normal social and extracurricular activities, a teen addicted to video games will continue to pass up real-life invitations to play on their preferred console.
3. They participate in marathon gaming sessions of 12+ hours
Video games are specifically created to entice gamers to never want to put their controllers down. Many games offer digital awards for “leveling up” so gamers never feel satiated. LAN parties also have skyrocketed in popularity, enforcing the notion that teens must “practice” so they can ensure a digital victory over their friends. If your teen binges in marathon gaming sessions, you may have cause for concern.
4. They are irritable, distracted or upset when unable to play
Teens who have a video game addiction often display an inability to effectively manage stress, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Your child may be using video games as a form of escapism, so bringing up real-world stressors such as chores or homework may incite a overly negative reaction.
5. They experience physical symptoms, such as headaches, eye strain, backaches, weight gain or weight loss
If your teen begins displaying physical symptoms of video game addiction, it may be time to seek external help. Wilderness therapy programs, like the ones offered at Pacific Quest, remove all technology from the equation, so teens can focus on developing real-life health and wellness skills. If you’re witnessing the signs of video game addiction and are concerned about the amount of time your teen spends gaming, we’re here to help.