Family playing video game on smartphone

Is Excessive Mobile App Gaming a Mental Disorder?

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If you have a child who plays a lot of video games and mobile app games like Fortnite, Minecraft, and Clash of Clans, you might find it annoying or even irritating as you ask him to come to the dinner table or get ready for school for the fourth time. You might even worry that she’s becoming addicted to the game, or wonder if her real-world social skills could be developing properly when she spends so much time in a digital world.

You probably never considered gaming as a mental health issue.

Gaming Mental DisorderKids And Excessive Gaming

The World Health Organization (WHO) released the latest edition of its International Classification of Diseases publication, which “…is the foundation for the identification of health trends and statistics globally, and the international standard for reporting diseases and health conditions. It is the diagnostic classification standard for all clinical and research purposes.”

In this issue, “gaming disorder” has been listed as a mental health condition.

Though gaming involves no abuse of a substance, it has similar addictive qualities and effects. Just as with an addiction to drugs or gambling, those with gaming disorder tend to persist with their gaming habits despite any negative consequences, such as strained relationships or trouble with sleep or overall health.

Diagnosing Gaming DisorderGaming Disorder

As with other diseases and physical and mental health conditions, only a health professional can make a diagnosis. To do that, they consider the following, as outlined in this CNN article about this newly classified disorder:

  • Does gaming take precedence over other activities?
  • Does the person spend more and more time gaming, despite negative consequences?
  • Does gaming impact the person’s life in a negative way? (For example, poor sleep habits due to playing late in the night, declining health, loss of friendships, or poor performance at school?)
  • Has the gaming behavior continued for at least a year?

If your child or teen is diagnosed with gaming disorder, he or she may need to undergo a treatment program that usually includes cognitive behavioral therapy, which, as Mayo Clinic explains, “…helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.” Alone or in conjunction with other treatments, it is often used to treat a wide range of issues, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

Is Your Child at Risk for Gaming Disorder?Online Gaming Addiction

The CNN article quotes Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, from the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, who says, “Millions of gamers around the world, even when it comes to the intense gaming, would never qualify as people suffering from gaming disorder.”

Furthermore, the article points out that there are a number of health professionals who disagree with the idea of gaming disorder being a mental health condition. One licensed psychologist who was interviewed for the story believes excessive gaming to be a coping mechanism for an issue like anxiety; once the anxiety is addressed in other ways, the amount of time spent gaming decreases.

How to Help Your ChildrenParents Teaching Healthy Gaming Habits

If you believe your child or teen may be addicted to gaming, you should schedule a visit with a health professional. Your doctor will recommend a treatment plan, which may include inpatient or outpatient treatment. There are some treatment centers that focus on gaming disorder.

Meanwhile, start to pay more attention to what your child does online.

  • Is he playing games when he’s on his mobile device, or is he talking to friends or browsing social media sites?
  • How much time is she spending online? How much time is spent in each type of online activity? Excessive internet use can become digital addiction, as well; it’s not just the games that may pose a danger.
  • What games does he play? Is he building cities or shooting enemies?
  • Why does she play them? Is it to connect with friends? To escape reality for a while? Stress relief? To create a character that embodies the qualities she hopes to develop? Or has it become her new “real life”?
  • How are the games played? What is the objective? How do you win?

Open a dialogue about your children’s internet use in general, and about their gaming habits in particular. Why do they like the games they do? What happens in those games? Your kids might enjoy explaining it to you; if not, you may have to play a few rounds yourself to understand what’s happening.

Have you heard your children talk about any of these popular games?

  • Minecraft
  • Fortnite
  • Clash of Clans
  • Angry Birds
  • Candy Crush
  • World of Warcraft
  • Monster Strike

It’s time to learn more about them, along with any other games you hear your child mention.

Of course, it’s always helpful to use trustworthy parental controls on your child’s mobile device. If you determine that a particular game is inappropriate for your child, you can block the app on his or her device. You can even easily set screen time limits that cannot be circumvented to ensure that your child is doing homework or participating in other activities, you can disable internet access during certain times of the day. For example, you might disable it starting at bedtime so he doesn’t spend precious sleeping hours playing video games, then allow for a few minutes of use in the morning after he’s ready for school, then disable it again while he is in class.

You can help your child schedule some “real world” activities during that internet downtime, too: think about family dinners, martial arts classes, or even going to the movies the old-fashioned way at a theater. Help him find real-world interests that may keep some of his attention away from video games.

Parental controls are a simple way to help you take some control over what your child does online. Along with that ongoing conversation about safe internet usage, you’re helping your child make responsible choices as they grow to understand the far-reaching impact of how they spend their time online.


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