In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, the popular TV sitcom, an upset Sheldon Cooper takes a walk to clear his head, as one might often do. However, he is sitting on couch while doing it. Cooper, almost matter-of-factly, is making his video game character take a walk, extending his brooding mood to his virtual world and showing how easy it is to intertwine real and virtual lives. When such lines get blurry, it is often a cause for concern.
Video game addiction has been a growing worry among parents. According to the India Digital Wellness Report by NortonLifeLock Inc in 2020, 87% of respondents felt that online gaming affected their mental health, as reported by Hindustan Times. Moreover, 92% of GenX respondents said they consider online gaming as the best pastime. Although online gaming can be a space for social interactions, these figures show how quickly they can become a harmful addiction.
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Children are often exposed to gaming from an early age and as they grow, they might seek more challenging, engaging games. They are often drawn to the graphics and stories behind the games and use them as a way to escape from the problems or stressors in their lives. The covid-19 pandemic, as recent research shows, has led to an increase in everyone's screen time. Video games often provide a temporary distraction from real-life issues.
The warning signs
According to cybersecurity expert Lauren Mak at VPNOverview.com there are some tips to identify gaming addiction in children that can help parents. The warning signs include children showing a lack of interest in things they once engaged in and not wanting to take part in other activities other than gaming.
Children can also show withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, hostility, mood swings, impatience, depression, anxiety and anger when not gaming, even for short periods. Some might struggle with insomnia and have disrupted eating habits which will have a negative impact on children as they might struggle with everyday tasks. This puts them at a risk of developing eating disorders. They might also not be able to look after personal hygiene.
Concentration levels while the study might also get affected. They might also show less compassion which might act as a barrier for them to creating healthy social connections and can lead to serious mental health issues.
Excessive gaming can elevate chronic stress levels, resulting lowering of immune function, putting children at a higher risk of catching infections. They might also develop headaches or migraines, which can leave them feeling exhausted. A sedentary lifestyle could also cause weight gain and other health issues.
“Whilst online gaming can be a fantastic way for children and teenagers to increase cognitive skills, develop social awareness and enhance creativity, there is a risk that the child can develop an addiction because of spending too much time playing online,” Mak explains in a press release.
What can parents do?
Mak highlights the importance of parents talking to their children and trying to identify the problems and symptoms to create a plan on how to help them. Parents should encourage healthy use of screens and downtime and let them see you doing the same – practice what you preach. Spend time offline and show them how it can be fun.
If your child is facing a problem with withdrawal, offer coping strategies such as something stimulating to the brain to get their mind off gaming, Mak says. Another way is to use the parental control option to monitor children’s gaming. Complete surveillance, however, is ill-advised. Let them have time online for a specific period. If you are monitoring their gaming, be open and assure them that they still have the right to privacy.
It’s also important to not dismiss gaming as something completely harmful. Parents can show interest and engage in positive conversations which could lead to making healthier choices. “It is important to remember that whilst you want your child or teenager to have fun and explore online gaming, you want them to be safe and develop healthy habits when it comes to spending time online whilst not intruding on their privacy,” Mak says in the release.