How to protect your kids from gaming disorder

Long summer days, especially the hot and humid days of July, may see your child stuck in front of a screen. And that’s nothing to be taken lightly.

In fact, just a few years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) added the condition gaming disorder to its international classification of diseases. The American Psychiatric Association classifies gaming disorder as a “condition for further study” in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Most parents probably aren’t surprised, as you may have had some long-standing questions regarding your child’s gaming habits. Are video games detrimental to a child’s social and emotional development? How much gameplay is too much?

Here’s what every parent needs to know about gaming disorder and how to make video games part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

What is gaming disorder?

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, it must significantly impair aspects of a child’s life, such as family, social or education for at least 12 months. Prior to its WHO classification, many of the diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder were generalized to accommodate symptoms of gaming addiction. According to health care professionals, both disorders cause the brain to produce dopamine in a similar way, which in turn produces the sensation of pleasure or euphoria that fuels the addictive behavior.

Although any age group or demographic is at risk of gaming disorder, kids can be especially susceptible, since many are first exposed to electronics with game capabilities at an impressionable age.

Striking a healthy balance

Video games are not inherently bad for a child’s health. They can provide a social outlet for children to bond and make friends. However, video games should be played in moderation and balanced with physical exercise, social activities and creative, unstructured play.

Pediatric mental health experts have some recommendations for how you can help your children achieve that healthy balance include:

Learn about the games your child wants to play — The term “video game” encompasses everything from Super Mario Brothers and Candy Crush to violent survival games, like Fortnite. Vet games in advance by watching playthroughs on YouTube to help you determine if it’s appropriate for your child.

Enforce time limits — Work with your children to set daily limits for gameplay, teaching them how to work within those limits. This way, they can plan rather than get upset when they must stop mid game.

Create a bridge between the game and real life — Talk to your children about the skills required to progress through the game, such as problem-solving, lateral thinking, quick reflexes, exploration and creativity. Discuss how they can apply those skills to everyday situations.

Teach your kids about online safety — If your child is playing games online, they’ll likely be exposed to offensive language, trash talk and possible verbal abuse from other players. Rather than shield them from this ugly inevitability, use it as a learning opportunity. Teach them how to manage those situations effectively, such as muting or disconnecting the audio, reporting abuse to the game’s moderator and not sharing personal information with strangers.

If you’re concerned with your child’s video game habits and how they might affect their emotional and social development, be sure to talk to your pediatrician.

• Children’s health is a continuing series. This week’s column was submitted by Ascension Illinois.

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