One of the most common questions I get asked by parents about gaming addiction is ‘How can I tell if my child has a problem?’ While there are well documented physical, behavioural and psychological symptoms of gaming addiction, the risk of reading through these checklists is that parents can sometimes become unnecessarily worried about fairly normal behaviours. With that in mind, an equally important question to consider is ‘How can I tell if my child does not have a problem?’
I’d like to look at some of the factors that can protect someone from developing a gaming addiction. The more of these factors a person has in their life, the more likely they are to manage their gaming in a healthy way:
1. A strong real-life social network
One reason people become addicted to gaming is because of the strong sense of community and belonging that games create. If someone has good friends in real life and maintains these relationships, they are less likely to need to seek this through games.
2. A supportive home environment
People can play games as a way to manage or escape from stress or conflict in their life. If the environment at home is stable, warm and supportive there’s less need to escape into games and less chance of an addiction developing.
3. Other activities they enjoy
Games give players a sense of competency and accomplishment. If this is the only place a person experiences this, gaming can become a problem. If someone has other activities in their life that they feel good at and are proud of, gaming is less likely to fill this role.
4. A sense of purpose or of working towards long term goals
Games provide players with a sense of purpose and progression. Ensuring that someone gets this experience outside of gaming as well as within it is crucial to ensuring that their gaming does not become a problem.
5. Ways of healthily managing stressful situations
We all sometimes seek ways of distracting ourselves from difficult feelings or situations, and games fulfil this role easily. If someone also has other healthy ways of managing feelings, then distraction doesn’t become the only way of coping. Having someone to talk to, expressing feelings through writing, music or art, using exercise, or managing feelings through meditation or mindfulness are all healthy alternatives.
As a parent, while it is helpful to identify problems early, it’s equally important to be aware of factors that can reduce the chances of problems developing in the first place. If you’re concerned about your child’s gaming, think about which if any of the protective factors listed above are in place, and which ones you might be able to help your child develop. Addressing addiction is often more about supporting and building positive alternatives than it is about managing or controlling the addictive behaviour, so working out where you’re at with each of these issues is a useful place to start!
– James Driver
About the Author
James Driver is a psychotherapist based in Christchurch, New Zealand who specialises in gaming and other technology-based addictions. His website, Net Addiction NZ (www.netaddiction.co.nz) provides resources, information and training about gaming addiction. James will be presenting on gaming addiction in 2016 at Generation Next events in Brisbane, Perth, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide – for more information visit www.generationnext.com.au.