The Xbox/PlayStation/Kinect has been getting plenty of action since it appeared under the tree last month. And while it's all innocent fun for now, is there any chance your child could become pathological -- aka, addicted to video games?
There are many reasons to hope not. As a new study in the journal Pediatrics reports, nearly 1 in 10 kids are pathological gamers -- risk factors for problem gaming include lower social competence, greater impulsivity and, of course, the amount they play. Those same gamers are more likely to have depression, anxiety, and bad grades at school.
Dire consequences, for sure. So it's vital that parents know the signs of video game addiction and how to prevent it. In 20 years as a counselor, Suzanne Roberts of Westside Counseling Services in West Seattle has seen her share of kids with addiction problems. Her top four red flags include:
Family history. Any child with a family history of addiction is vulnerable to becoming a pathological gamer, Roberts says. "It doesn't matter if the history is for gambling or drugs or alcohol; it comes down to brain chemistry."
Gaming as central organizing feature. In other words, is gaming taking over the kid's life to the detriment of homework, sleep, and family time? Says Roberts: "It’s a problem when the video games become the central feature and more important than friendship, eating, sleeping, and school."
Loss of pleasure. If your child use to love an activity but has suddenly stopped enjoying it because all they want to do is play video games, it's a problem. The gaming needs to not interfere with other domains of your kid's life.
Success at gaming. Another red flag is if a kid has lots of success playing video games. When they win, they're stimulated and are motivated to play more and more.
Of course, there's plenty parents can do to keep a child's gaming habits in check, Roberts says.
It's best to limit screen time, and even better to pick the exact time of day the child is allowed to play. This creates consistency and structure. (It's a problem if kids start to sneak or lie about when they are playing.)
Keep the video games in a community area of the house. If it's in a bedroom with door closed, that can reinforce isolation.
Ultimately, Roberts says a kid is going to be vulnerable to addiction if protective factors are failing. As a parent, you have to be in tune with your child's needs.
There's a simple way to accomplish that: Spend time with your child.
What do you think of your child's video game-playing? Have you taken steps to keep it in check? Share your thoughts in the comments.