By: Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, School-based Psychologist
Do you wonder if your child is at risk for internet and/or gaming addiction? Internet addition is defined as an impulse control disorder and involves the excessive and problematic use of the internet. For laypersons, it has been compared to pathological gambling addiction. There is some truth to this as the DSM-V criteria from which psychiatrists and psychologists refer to determine mental pathologies such as internet addiction was adapted from the criteria used to identify gambling addiction.
An article written by KS Young, published in the American Journal of Family Therapy, answers the question with these comments, “gaming addicts would rather spend more time in the cyber world than sleeping, eating, or communicating.” (2009, 37(5): 355-372). If your child would rather watch TikTok or their favorite Youtuber, play Minecraft, Fortnite than sleep, eat or interact with you or their friends in traditional offline activities; then you may have a problem.
Internet and Gaming Addiction: Antidotal Case Stories
In practice, excessive internet, gaming, streaming, and social media use are constant recurring issues. I believe that parents are observing these behavioral challenges as well. For instance, as I counsel students in the school setting, I hear this refrain quite often from students:
“I’m tired [while yawning].” When asked why they are sleepy at 9:00am, they reply without hesitation, “I stayed up all night playing/watching my phone.”
Teachers have observed these troubling behaviors in the classroom also. They often come to me seeking advice and utter in exasperation,”[name] is failing.” When I inquire why, they answer, “he knows the content, but he just will not turn in homework assignments. He’s too pre-occupied. And when he’s in class, he’s always looking at his phone, rather than focusing on class discussions.”
When the child’s grades skid to a free fall, the parents are called in for a parent-teacher conference. They too report the same symptoms indicating that the child is disorganized and “fails to do what he is told.” But take heart everyone, we can still make a difference in this child’s life. It’s never to late to help a child unlearn maladaptive behaviors and re-learn new ones!
What are some of the motivating factors associated with Online Gaming Addiction?
It’s often said that before we can solve a problem, we need to identify the source of the problem (root cause analysis). A study of 1167 gamer behaviors by Hussain, Williams and Griffiths appearing in Computers in Human Behavior (2015:20:221-230). The methodology of the study involved the groupings of the participant gamers into seven different categories based upon behavioral profiles of primary motivations. This study may be instrumental in helping parents identify attitudes that are more likely to trigger excessive social media, internet, gaming use. The seven motivators for playing massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) are as follows:
- Novelty (This is something new that just came out! I can’t wait to figure out this new game)
- Highly social and discovery oriented, trendsetters (I’ve got to be the first within my peer group to try it!)
- Aggressive, anti-social and non-curious (I may not have a life outside of gaming because of bullying, but I’m a star player on this platform)
- Highly social and competitive (I’m very sociable in virtual and physical reality environments, I just like people and I want to be number one in all platforms)
- Low intensity enjoyment (Wow, this is fun because I don’t need to exert myself a lot to have fun and relax)
- Discovery orientated (I like to learn new things, try new things to figure out how they work)
- Social classes (socio-economic class and income based from low to high)
Of these seven categories, which gamer has a higher probability of becoming addicted?
Statistical predictive analysis was conducted which found that gamers. Of greatest interest to parents, the researchers found that gamers who belonged to the first three categories mentioned above were associated with the highest risk of game addition.
- Novelty class, or
- Highly social and competitive class, or
- Aggressive, anti-social, and non-curious class.
Implications of Gaming Addiction outside of the Classroom, School and Beyond
Does imprudent and unrestrained use of social media, the internet, games and streaming services impact your child’s future? Yes. Jeremy Adams, a nominee for the National Teacher of the Year award and the author of Hollowed Out: Warning about America’s Next Generation argues that this generation of teens and young adults are leading lonely lives, detached from the physical pillars of society such as family, church and community. At the same time however, they are chemically dependent, much like an addict to virtual reality ecosystems: namely, online gaming, streaming services, and social media networks.
What can a parent do if internet or gaming addiction is suspected?
- Seek the services of a professional mental health and/or behavioral specialist.
- Involve school counselor and school psychologist of behavioral challenges you have observed in the home. Let them know if you believe his/her internet/gaming is negatively impacting academic performance.
- Gather information on Cognitive Behavior Therapy that can be used to help your child overcome his potential for digital/internet addiction, with the following suggestions in mind.
- Learning time management strategies;
- Recognizing the benefits and potential harms of the Internet;
- Increasing self-awareness and awareness of others and one’s surroundings;
- Identifying “triggers” of Internet “binge behavior”, such as particular Internet applications, emotional states, maladaptive cognitions, and life events;
- Learning to manage emotions and control impulses related to accessing the Internet, such as muscles or breathing relaxation training;
- Improving interpersonal communication and interaction skills;
- Improving coping styles;
- Cultivating interests in alternative activities
- Learn more about Behavioral Therapy and reward and reinforcement techniques to be practiced in the home and school to replace the undesired behavior (internet/gaming) with desired behaviors (other social activities and in-person human interaction)
- Reinforce good behavior with a reward system – like stars on a chart, or extending a special privilege.
- Discourage negative behavior by ignoring it. Kids often use bad behavior to get attention.
- Take away a privilege if negative behavior is too serious to ignore.
- Remove common triggers of bad behavior.
- Offer an alternative behavior that is more socially acceptable than an angry reaction.
- Eliminate the discussion at the moment the child is raging (giving the child attention for negative behavior is actually a reward for negative behavior).
- Always build on positives: Praise the child and offer positive reinforcement when he shows flexibility or cooperation. Recognize the “little victories” with enthusiasm.
- Learn to control the home environment. Parents, take a time-out or break if it is suspected that a conflict with the child will be made worse, not better.
- Pick your battles: Since a child may have trouble avoiding power struggles, prioritize the demands placed on the child.
- Provide structure: Bad behavior tends to escalate when a child has unsupervised free time and unclear expectations. A daily routine, on the other hand, lets a child know what to expect.
- Position behavioral issues as problems that can be solved. Explain to the child that ignoring an alarm clock doesn’t help him get to school on time, and ask what he can do to avoid being tardy again.
- Set up reasonable, age-appropriate limits and enforce consequences consistently: Resist the temptation to rescue the child from naturally occurring consequences.
- Don’t go it alone: Work with and get support from the other adults (teachers, coaches, and spouse) who interact with the child. Look for local support groups and/or parenting classes for parents of difficult children.
- Avoid burnout: Maintain interests other than the child so that managing his behavior doesn’t sap all of the family’s time and energy. Manage family stress with exercise and relaxation. Use respite care as needed.
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Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA http://www.ishareknowledge.com is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya at ishareknowledge dot com