Boredom during lockdown is something I think we can all relate to.
Loneliness, depression and lack of connection have also been rampant issues.
So video gaming has been somewhat of a blessing throughout the pandemic, particularly for kids and young people who have been disconnected from their peers and regular schooling routines.
But now that students are heading back to physical classrooms, we are seeing that some youth have become rather addicted to video games, causing issues with their education and wellbeing.
Understanding the role of video games during lockdown
Many parents will know the joys and perils related to their children playing video games. The juggling act of working from home and caring for kids has been relentless, and so video games can be helpful for keeping kids preoccupied outside of learning hours. But having an “addicted” child creates other issues – avoiding chores, rarely leaving their bedroom and staying up late on school nights to play video games with friends can be frustrating to deal with.
But if you think video games are becoming a problem for your child, it is important to first understand the role video games have in their life.
In a recent article in The Conversation on how video games can boost wellbeing during the pandemic*, lecturers from Swinburne University of Technology explain that people have three psychological needs (according to Self-Determination Theory). They state that “the satisfaction of these basic psychological needs leads to greater well-being and motivation.”
These three needs are:
Feeling you have choices, that you can act in accordance with your values, and pursue meaningful goals.
Feeling effective and capable of overcoming problems.
Feeling connected to others.
The lecturers also note that if we experience reduced feelings of happiness or wellbeing during lockdown, it could be due to reduced satisfaction of one or more of these needs. They write:
“For instance, your sense of autonomy may be undermined when forced to self-isolate, as you can’t partake in many of your usual activities. Your sense of competence might have also taken a hit, by missing out on the daily ‘wins’ that can come through leisure pursuits or problem-solving at work. You also likely can’t see your colleagues, neighbours, friends, and family as often, which can undermine feelings of relatedness. Feeling powerless is also common during pandemics.”
Your child may find that video games have helped to combat these issues during the extended period of isolation, helping them to feel more autonomous, competent, and connected to others.
“Research shows games help facilitate a sense of autonomy by giving players freedom of choice and, depending on the game, a meaningful narrative for completing tasks. Well-designed games also facilitate a feeling of competence by presenting challenges that aren’t too hard or too easy and feel rewarding to overcome. They offer a clearly defined ‘sense of progress and achievability’, as Jennifer Scheurle explains. This is especially valuable during lockdown when your days may feel monotonous. Games also offer a sense of relatedness. This could be through playing with friends, or even connecting with a stranger online (with whom you may be battling a common enemy).”
It is also important to note that playing video games can also be used as an “escape” or as a means to relax. Children and adults alike who experience stress, anxiety or depression (or other mental health conditions) have been observed to form a reliance or addiction to video games as a means to ease symptoms.
Is my child addicted to gaming?
This really depends on what you consider to be an addiction. The word “addiction” generally implies that the obsession is having an adverse effect on the life or lives of others.
You might find your child’s obsessive video gaming habits to be frustrating, but this in itself is not enough to establish that they have an addiction. So, what are the indicators of video game addiction?
Joanne Orlando, Researcher of Technology and Learning at Western Sydney University**, explains that a child may be addicted to video games if they are:
- prioritising video gaming to the extent that it takes precedence over other activities and interests
- and continuing to game despite negative effects on work, school, family life, health, hygiene, relationships, finances or social relationships.
Our own CatholicCare counsellor who specialises in addictions, Gerard Koe, points out another key indicator of video game addiction - withdrawal symptoms.
If your child is showing symptoms of anxiety, aggression, irrationality or depression after withdrawing from video games (whether it is forced upon them or not), this is a good indicator that they have become addicted. Your child may also resist or fight with those who threaten to reduce or completely remove opportunities for them to play video games.
Also be aware that, if they have been reliant on video games to enhance feelings of connectedness, competence, autonomy, or to provide them with an “escape” during lockdown, withdrawing from playing video games can also lead to negative mood changes.
How do I stop my child from playing games?
Spending an excessive amount of time playing video games is not bad in itself, as long as your child is maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle – eating well, exercising, getting adequate sleep and participating in other interests and activities.
But if video games are taking precedence over a healthy lifestyle, over a long period of time (say 6-12 months), then it might be time to seek help. Of course, these past seven months have been unlike any other with our reduced ability to get out and about, but this is even more reason as to why a balanced lifestyle is essential.
Given this challenging time we have all endured, while your ideal may be to stop your child from playing video games altogether, it is more important to focus on the root of the problem.
If your child is lonely or feeling disconnected, if they’re experiencing anxiety, depression or bullying, or if they’re not finding joy or happiness through any other means, addressing these issues will often have flow-on effects to problematic video gaming.
But how do you know what is driving their obsession to play?
The answer is simple – ask!
Depending on your relationship with your child, asking them upfront may not yield results, but showing an interest in their gaming may eventually lead them to open up on their thoughts and feelings.
You can start by asking things like:
- What games have you been playing? Are they fun?
- Were you playing [insert game name here] with friends today? What are your friends’ names?
- What is that game about? What do you do in it?
You could then progress to asking questions such as:
- How does it make you feel when you play [insert game name here]?
- I’ve noticed you play games quite a lot, what do you get out of it?
Once you feel that your child is talking openly and seem at ease when discussing their video gaming activities, this is when you can approach them about your concerns. It is important to talk about your observations, rather than accusing them of anything. An example of this might be:
“It seems like you really enjoy playing video games, but I’ve noticed you seem down whenever you’re not playing. Is there anything you’d like to talk about – are you okay? I’m here to listen if you need me.”
A simple conversation like this can open opportunities for your child to talk about their mental health or things that are worrying them. From here, you may be able to work through issues together and even come to an agreement on limiting their time playing video games, to use the extra time on other necessary or enjoyable activities.
But if you can’t work through this together, or if you are worried about their mental health, it is recommended to seek professional help from a doctor or counsellor.
Discover kids and teens counselling at CatholiCare.
* Time well spent, not wasted: video games are boosting well-being during the coronavirus lockdown - The Conversation
** How to know if your child is addicted to video games and what to do about it - The Conversation