Designation of ‘Gaming Disorder’ fuels parents’ fears about addictive video games

CHICAGO — Last week the World Health Organization confirmed the fears of parents worldwide: Video games can leave your kids addicted.

While affecting only three percent of gamers, "Gaming Disorder" is still considered rare, but the risks are real. So real it is considered in the same class as alcohol and drug addiction and seen in rehab centers all over the globe. People in Asia have even died from sitting and playing for days on end.

These days, the hit video game Fortnite is 10-year-old Tommy Tingle’s version of a 21st century playdate. As a result, hanging out during the summer has taken on a whole new meaning.

“Three of his friends decided instead of going over to one of their houses... they decided to all go home and meet on Xbox so they could play," his mother Katie said. With two consoles in her home and school iPads a-plenty, she says she's lost control of gaming under her roof.

"I feel like they have forgotten how to do other things," she said. "Tommy has completely forgotten how to go outside and have fun."

Digital cultural expert and author of "The Upside of Digital Devices" Nicole Dreiske is also very well-versed on the downside of gaming. When it comes to Fortnite, she says kids under 12 should not be playing this game.

"I think that the problem is similar to what happened when parents thought that The Simpsons was okay for 8- to 10-year-olds," Dreiske said. "That was the first time that parents got fooled and it wasn’t their fault... how did they know this was social commentary and not positive programming for their kids?"

The problem is, there isn't enough dialogue on the matter between parents and kids, Dreiske says. She wants parents to communicate better with their kids, and even play games with them to get a sense of the habits, reactions, and intensity.

"What are the three words that constitute the dialogue around screen time in our country? Turn it off," Dreiske said.

She goes on to say dopamine levels, the neurotransmitter related to reward and pleasure, rise with every thrill and kill on the screen no matter how old you are. And that is the whole idea.

"Dopamine is a huge factor in the process of addiction. So what you’re doing is designing an industry to create, mimic the same chemistry that is the foundation for addiction," Dreiske said.

And when even pro athletes are deep in the game and have millions of followers, it’s hard to tell your kids to “turn it off” and find something else to do.

For parents who are concerned about their own kids, there are some common symptoms of Gaming Addiction, according to Dreiske:

  • If your child is demonstrating a greater amount of irritability, less patience or behaving in a way that shows a shorter fuse than usual
  • Symptoms similar to withdrawl, like jonesing to get back on as soon as they sign off
  • Are they getting less sleep?
  • Is the truth getting in the way of their fun? Some kids who don’t usually lie, end up lying to get more time with the game, Dreiske said.
  • Weight gain can result from a lack of activity as well

Katie Tingle said their son started to exhibit similar signs to addiction, even going as far to charge money to pay for things in the game.

"It’s over $300 illegally purchased as I like to say," she said.

Dreiske suggests printing off a family tech agreement or device contract, signed and agreed upon by kids and adults before you hook up your digital devices. A document listing spells out family priorities in black and white, including when check-ins happen and possible consequences

"I feel like it is sucking the life out of him," Katie Tingle said. "It’s like a drug. It’s like crack.”

"Everything he says you could take those same words and be talking to a drug addict and they would be exactly the same," Katie Tingle said.

Other side effects of gaming according to the expert include leaving home later, maturing slower, interacting with others less, and an increase in depression, narcissism and posturing.

Fortnite is currently the game of the hour, but soon the game obsessed will be onto something else, while the addiction potential remains.

For more information, visit the International Children’s Media Center.