Why should you care?
Social media and gaming addiction is a real concern that ranges from a “bad habit” that may cost your child some sleep and annoy your family, to being serious enough to cause permanent brain damage and disability. More and more children are struggling with it and anyone with access to the internet or a gaming device is at risk. Young people are more at risk because they have more free access to the internet and games than to other addictive causes like tobacco and alcohol. If you can prevent or identify it early then a complete recovery is possible, leave it longer and the consequences might be permanent.
Is it all bad?
No, games and social media can have very positive effects. It only becomes problematic when a child loses control over the amount of time they spend on it or are affected by the content. Children who have lost control can develop problems with poor sleep, depression, anxiety, poor academic results, loneliness, behaviour and aggression.
How does it work?
It works in the same way as other well-known addictions like alcoholism. When you look at the brains of people with internet and gaming addiction, they show the same problematic changes as found in other serious addictions. A child can start losing control because what they play or do online makes them feel better about themselves - it does not even have to be that amazing. They can also lose control when the game is really amazing for whatever reason, and everyday life and school become boring in comparison. Even amazing games will eventually become boring, leaving them irritable and depressed, having neglected their friends and other activities that could help them. This is no accident, the gaming industry and social media companies employ psychologists to make their products as addictive as possible. Source: American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2012/01/hot-careers.aspx
What should you look out for?
Any child may be affected. At Smart Start Minds we have seen a growing number of teenage boys presenting with more serious problems. They are often left unsupervised by their parents who do not always know how much time is spent playing or which games they are playing. I had personal experience of this when my son was seven years old and we discovered him playing a game on his iPad at 1am in the morning. I had installed it and overridden the parental controls because it looked harmless. I was curious why it was so addictive to him and on closer inspection discovered that it was what is called a “Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing” game, played mostly by adults, despite its childish appearance. These types of games are the most addictive and once I reactivated the parental controls he lost interest in his iPad.
True or False?
More true answers indicate increased likelihood of a problem: 1 They constantly think or talk about the game/internet activity even when not playing it. 2 Increasingly use it as an escape, whilst doing less other activities and neglecting responsibilities and friends. 3 Need more time, action or intensity on it to get the same enjoyment. 4 Feel anxious, irritable or depressed when unable to or prevented from doing it. 5 Develop problems with relationships, school work, and with controlling the amount of time spent playing or online. 6 Are unable to stay away from it even if they don’t want to use it.
Are you concerned?
Early intervention is recommended, and you may find these suggestions helpful: • Allow your child to play, chat or watch online or television for as long as they have read a story or book outside of school that day - and they have to read first! • If you have a teenager, play whatever game they are playing for a few hours to decide about the content yourself, or watch the game’s “best moments” on YouTube. You can also search for the age rating of the game and if they are not old enough, take it away and observe how they react. • Try to limit their total screen time per day to two hours. We usually see problems develop when young people spend more than this, and it includes all screen time that is not directly related to schoolwork. • If you are concerned, speak to a professional that you trust to get their advice. • For more information, you can contact us at: