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Video Games – How Much is Too Much?

Janie Hortman

young teenager in dark bedroom playing console video game at nightWe have all seen the rise and fall of trends in play in our children: slime, fidget spinners, and more, but what seems to stick around are video games. These games stick around because there is always something new to engage in and “get to the next level”. On one hand video games can be a social experience for kids as they play with each other through the game, talk, and create relationships. On the other hand, the games need to be monitored to know whom your child is talking too, monitor how much time your child is playing, and how your child’s behavior is being affected. The best compromise is to learn where the line is of too much.

As we are learning these games can quickly become equated to addiction. I know, this is not the typical subject where we talk about addiction, but there has been recent research and studies to better understand how too much time spent playing can affect behaviors. The World Health Organization has added a gaming disorder to mental health conditions as well. Information has shown how children get addicted and want to play more to succeed at a level or play with friends, and the dopamine in the brain reacts and takes body to a heighten state. However, when the child stops playing there is a withdrawal period where they become irritable, angry, or withdrawn from those around them. This withdrawal is not something a kid is prepared for so they will try to avoid it by staying up at night playing and lose sleep, continue to play after being told “no”, and playing on multiple devices. It can also cause other health concerns because they are remaining sedentary, gaining shorter attention spans, and concerns about risks for eyes and hands. As this trend grows, it can be helpful to know you are not alone. The good news is that the dopamine being produced by the video games is happening because your child is feeling like they are being rewarded with the success of the game. There are many ways to duplicate the good feelings with activities beyond the screen.

One of the first ways to help decrease the attachment to video games is to decrease playing time to about 2 hours a day. At first, depending on how long your child plays a day, you can decrease the playing time in increments until you reach about 2 hours a day. Decreasing the screen time and increasing face-to-face contact with friends and family will help provide quality time and social skills! Secondly, it is hard to implement new rules at first, but there is a lot of new technology by different companies that can help you put limitations on your internet or devices to block or cut off the internet when needed. These “Parent Controls” can help you put the agreed upon program and time limit on the screen. You can ask your service provider about how to get start with these. The last thing to do is help replace the active behavior levels in your child with something else that can keep them engaged. Face to face play dates, outdoor games, a board game, cooking in the kitchen, and practicing a music instrument are just a few ideas to get families and friends together. Any type of activity your child likes will help them feel like they have had a success and build confidence beyond the video game!

If you do notice your child is having a hard time dealing with letting go of video game use and exhibiting unfamiliar behaviors, please reach out to a professional for further consultation and help.

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