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5 signs your child has a gaming addiction and how to help

Is your child or teen obsessed with their XBox or Nintendo Switch?

child gaming
Sophie Hamilton
Sophie HamiltonParenting Editor
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If your child is into online gaming, you'll know just how much they enjoy the likes of Minecraft, Fortnite and Fifa, but also how hard it can be to get them off it and come and eat their dinner!

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Ever since the pandemic started, gaming has been one way our children have kept upbeat and connected with their friends when contact was so limited. Now Covid regulations have ended, you may be one of many parents concerned about their child or teen's gaming habits and screen time.

boy gaming

Here, Psychotherapist Noel McDermott, who has over 25 years experience in health, social care and education gives his advice on children and online gaming and warns when a harmless hobby can become a disorder. He also outlines the numerous positives to gaming for children.

Noel McDermott says: "Our kids are no longer odd in their embracing of the online space, as necessity moved us all in that direction.

"Online gaming and online life have been seen as a challenge for parents with alarmist stories appearing. However, if gaming and online addiction were so dangerous a threat then the period of the pandemic would have seen a very significant rise in this so-called addiction, but it hasn't".

"For the very small number of kids who develop a gaming disorder, it is a severe issue, and as with all psychological problems, early detection and treatment is very important.

"However, for the vast majority of kids it’s not a disorder, but it may move from healthy to unhealthy and may need intervention. The first place to start in understanding if your child has gaming or other online issues is your child."

Dos & Don'ts for parents

Noel McDermott says:

Don't assume that their gaming or other online use is automatically a problem. Your kids may get their back up because you come into the conversation with them assuming it’s bad and they feel your only agenda is to stop them - to be honest, they are usually correct in that assessment. The resistance you get will not be because they have a problem with gaming, but because they have a problem parent!

Do take the time to find out what they like about the games and try to get inside their heads.

Don't be a dinosaur about technology and online spaces. Try to imagine going through the pandemic without being able to go online… how horrible would that have been for all?

Don't assume this is all about being on their own and isolating. Most games are social now, played often between kids who know each other IRL from school etc and provide positive social glue to those relationships. Your child is playing with their computer and their mates and when you take away their games you are actually taking away their real-world friends.

family games

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Signs that gaming is becoming a problem:

  • Consistent sleep deprivation issues due to gaming, affecting school
  • Reduction in self-care and prioritising gaming
  • Not managing IRL interactions and actually replacing gaming ones for real-world ones rather than enhancing or complimenting
  • Obsessing about gaming and only having this as a topic of conversation
  • Not having any other interests outside of gaming and online activities

Noel McDermott says: "The best approach is always to talk to your child and help them manage more effectively, but if your child becomes angry and aggressive in their using or start to use drugs to prolong their sessions then seek professional help.

"The gaming use may also be a symptom of another issue so it’s important not to label until a proper assessment has been conducted. If your child is for example isolating and gaming due to bullying, diagnosing them as a gaming addict won’t help and in fact will cause severe harm."

Positives to gaming and online spaces for children and teens

Noel McDermott says: "There are plenty of positives to gaming and online spaces for children and young people and we have to look at these issues in the round in this way, enhancing the positives and reducing the negatives."

  • Employment and education, using online tools and computers are essential in our world
  • Employment as a gamer or games designer - there are many opportunities in this field
  • Neurological growth, in opposition to the theory that being online rots your brain it usually enhances it, and it enhances the pro-social aspects of brain function
  • Gaming is increasingly a tool in mental health research and treatment
  • It is being utilised in medicine in pain management to reduce opiate use in serious injury such as burns
  • Developing friendships. Yes, it’s one of the primary ways kids make and cement real-world friendships and this can be particularly true for boys making friends 

"We have to be realistic if problems develop that prohibition won't work as trying to prohibit online activity from a person’s life is not possible.

"Everything is online: your fridge, watch, phone, TV, computer, your work, your school, doctor and supermarket! What we need to do is work with children to help them manage online use."

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