Lots of people like to play video or online games and can spend many hours gaming. For lots of people this is ok, and they are able to have other hobbies and interests, see friends, and still get on with their everyday lives. For others, this love of gaming can tip into being unhelpful, and impact on their life in a damaging way. It is possible to be at risk of, or develop, an addiction to gaming in a similar way to those who are at risk of, or addicted, to substances (such as drugs or alcohol).
What it might look like, or feel like, if someone is struggling with problematic gaming:
- Constantly thinking about, or wanting to play the game;
- Feeling irritable and restless (fidgety) when not playing;
- Under reporting, or lying about how much time they’ve spent playing, or playing in secret (such as in the middle of the night);
- Tiredness, headaches or hand pain from too much screen time, and use of controllers;
- Not wanting to pay attention to things such as personal hygiene (eg, washing) or eating;
- Not seeing friends as often, or doing other things they used to enjoy doing, as all their time is spent gaming/ online;
- Not wanting to go to school so that they can game;
- Sleep disturbance (difficulties getting to, or staying asleep, or restless sleep with or without nightmares).
Not everyone who has a gaming addiction will experience all these signs and symptoms. Also, if a young person is experiencing some of these signs and symptoms this does not necessarily mean that they have a gaming addition, but it may be important to get further help and advice.
Things that might help someone who experiences problematic gaming:
- Helping young people to develop an awareness and understanding of their gaming behaviour, and how this is having a detrimental impact on their wellbeing and/or functioning. Having open, non-judgemental, non-blaming/ critical conversations, sharing concerns and observations may be a starting point;
- Remaining open and curious to the lived and felt experience of the young person, as this will help you both to better understand the drivers and rewards (factors which make gaming more likely) for the young person;
- If a young person is gaming, ensure that they are playing age appropriate games. They have age ratings just like films. Pan European Game Information provides detailed age ratings to help you decide how appropriate a game is for your child (see below);
- Some games allow players to connect and interact with others, including people they may not know. Make sure your young person knows how to protect themselves online by not sharing personal information. If you, or your young person are concerned about online interactions, you can report it to Child Exploitation and Online Protection who can advise and support you (see below);
- Aim to work together with your young person in reducing the time spent gaming. This may need to be done in stages. It might help to think together about how to stop a gaming session. Strategies such as using a timer to remind them how long they’ve got left, use in-game timers to set a fixed play time, or agree the stopping point in a way that works for the game they’re playing – for example, stopping at the end of a particular level may be helpful;
- It can be helpful to think about other activities that the young person can engage with to replace or fill the time they previously would have spent gaming. It will be important to acknowledge that other activities may not be as enjoyable, or be seen as important to do for the young person, so their motivation to do these may need regular encouragement;
- Set family boundaries for time spent on technology such as TV/phones/ games consoles/ computer systems, etc. This could include cut off times for WIFI or use of technology. See below for a useful tool to help you create your own family agreement.
There is more information and advice on the Big Deal Website (Gaming information, advice and support for young people) (see below).
If a young person is in crisis, they can call 116123 or text YM to 85258 (free to call or text 24hrs a day, 7 days a week)
Use coping techniques. Please see website section.
Share concerns with your child’s school/college, and identify whether additional pastoral support is available.
Help and support may be available from your child’s school nursing team.
Seek advice, guidance and support from Young Minds Parent Helpline: 08088025544