Updated: December 2020 to add additional details to the list with the help of Outback Therapeutic Expeditions.
Addiction.com estimates that video games are played in over 70% of American households. The statistic is not surprising seeing as how each generation is increasingly tech-savvy. Video game enthusiasts tout these activities as a means to blow off steam or because video games require problem-solving skills and critical thinking, the increased use should actually be celebrated. However, when it comes to the wellbeing of our children, it's hard to ignore the amount of time they spend "plugged-in."
Immensely popular among teens and young adults, the free online video game, Fortnite, generated over 40 million downloads since its release in 2017. Even more surprising is Fortnite’s recent concert featuring Marshmello, a famous EDM (electronic dance music) artist, that drew over 10.7 million virtual audience members to the in-game event. This number does not include those who viewed the concert live on other platforms, or those who have since watched the concert1. It’s clear that the post-apocalyptic game has a hold on its users, particularly the younger demographics, contributing to troubled teen tech addiction, and giving many parents real cause for concern.
Video game addiction is not yet included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), making it difficult to diagnose and harder for families to understand when there are problem behaviors. However, according to the World Health Organization, video game addiction in teens is defined by the International Classification of Diseases as “a pattern of gaming behavior (‘digital-gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
It can be hard to pinpoint the difference between a keen interest in video games, and a harmful video game addiction. If you're worried your child may be suffering from video game addiction, here are five signs for which you should be on the lookout:
5 Signs of Possible Teen Video Game Addiction
1. Loss of interest in school-related, family-related, extra-curricular, and social activities.
Your child prioritizes video games over spending time with other hobbies, friends, and even family. They begin to isolate from family and peer groups and show disinterest in hobbies and activities they used to enjoy. School performance can be an area in which parents will notice the negative impacts of gaming. Areas can include disengagement from and/or falling asleep in class, missing assignments, and drop in grades. When parents attempt to restrict time spent on the screen, kids can show symptoms of withdrawal such as impatience and angry outbursts, anxiety, irritability, as well as lying to cover up the amount of time spent on playing video games.
2. Feelings of depression or anxiety when not playing video games or when the "server is down."
Your teen seems to be happy or at peace while they are playing video games. During periods when they are not playing, they seem agitated and eager for their next gaming session.
3. Drop off of self-care practices like getting adequate sleep, maintaining proper hygiene, or skipping meals to play video games.
Your teen stays up late at night to play video games, foregoes showering or changing clothes because they are too absorbed in the game, eats while playing, or skips meals altogether.The disregard for important life skills, hiding behind gaming to escape from responsibilities, and avoiding emotions and stress, can all impact the overall well-being of your child. Sleep deprivation and sleep disturbances are directly linked to depression and loneliness in adolescence. Sleep deprivation can lead to impairment in attention, concentration, reasoning as well as increase impulsivity. The mental health risks associated with gaming, such as impaired cognitive functioning, and change in dopamine levels, increase in anxiety and depression can play a role in the negative behaviors parents witness in their teens.
4. Inability to quit even though they have tried.
Any efforts to discontinue video game usage have failed, and your child continues playing at the same or an increased rate.
5. “Binging” on video games.
Playing for more than 8 hours non-stop in one sitting and then lying to family members about the amount of time spent playing. One session lasting for an extended period is not necessarily a cause for alarm, but if your child repeatedly spends entire days "plugged in," or begins fibbing about how long they spend online, you may be dealing with a video game addiction.
The points above are not a complete list of signs and symptoms of video game addiction. It is a general list of the most commonly occurring behavioral changes. You know your child best. Always keep an eye out for other changes in behavior that could indicate a problem.
Treatment and Recovery Options
While video games can have a powerful hold on children, there are some effective treatment and recovery options available. A first step might be to engage in family therapy to offer a neutral environment for your child to hear the concerns of their family, and to express their thoughts and feelings as well. Another option is to find an individual therapist locally for your teen who specializes in tech addiction to make an assessment and work with your teen and family. Listed on this website are treatment programs that specialize in tech addiction for teens and young adults. There is also a boarding school that has a specific track for students who are coming out of home treatment or needs a more supportive structure to separate from games or devices.
If you feel the need for additional measures, there are in-patient therapeutic/treatment programs reStart (WA) or a Wilderness Therapy Program like Outback Therapeutic Experience (UT). They are specifically designed to treat teens with video game addiction. These programs offer hope for families that struggle with these issues and provide a clear path to an addiction-free lifestyle for children and their parents alike.