Basically every psychologist agrees that using electronic devices in the 21st century, in our over technicized world became so prevalent for children and teenagers, that it could cause damage in their real life, personal relationships and communication. More and more parents of children in therapy talk about lacking methods to control their children’s Internet and computer usage.
Hungarian studies reported the same (1). The growing spread of e-sport, which was the topic of many international articles, is an intensifying factor in all this. Many were shocked by the fact that in the USA a sixteen year old boy suspended his high school studies so he could play 10-14 hours a day with the popular shooting game called Fortnite (2). His father, who knew and supported the decision, said that this is what e-sport demands.
However the fact that WHO classified video game addiction a mental disorder this May emphasized the seriousness of the problem which professionals have already experienced, and focused non-professionals including parents’ attention on this matter (3).
Playing video games can be a pleasant, relaxing form of entertainment on its own, a nice way to spend free time alone or with friends.
This turns into a negative spiral when the time spent with gaming becomes so regular, that the individual’s personal relationships are wasting away, he neglects his professional and personal duties, and puts the ones close to him in danger – for example financially spending over his budget in or for a game.
The majority of video games you can buy nowadays offer an online mode to play, whether the game is for PC or for console. Moreover the most popular games are the ones which only have an online mode.
What is behind this? Mainly the fact that playing these games gives the gamer the feeling of belonging somewhere, being part of a community.
These feelings are amplified by real time verbal communication, joining ’clans’ and the type of battles where one team fights another. The importance of belonging was shown not only by international researches (4) but our own findings at the University of Debrecen also support this theory (5). It has to be mentioned that multiplayer gaming builds on feedback received from others just as social media usage does, but here instead of comments, shares and likes the rewards can be more direct (e.g. weapons, more XP, or reaching new levels). This feedback can be dangerous as well because for the age group at risk (pre-puberty and puberty) their parents are not their role models anymore, instead they look up to individuals at the same age from their community. This could result in rushing each other into constant quests for gaining bigger and bigger prestige and results within the game.
In conclusion we have to point out that for parents to prohibit all forms of computer gaming is just as ineffective as the ’lassiez faire’, allowing parental attitude. It is necessary to find the middle ground and content suitable for the given age group, also providing limited and controlled screen time for children helps preventing serious addiction.
Parents have to set a good example too: if children see mom and dad ’resting’ being on their smartphone or in front of the TV all evening after a long day they won’t be able to acquire alternative behaviors and coping strategies. With gaming disorder added to WHO’s ICD (International Classification of Diseases) increased electronic device usage in early childhood – which affects child-parent relationship negatively and has a destructive impact on the development of a child – can’t be normalized anymore (6).
Written by Tamás Józsa
The author is a clinical child psychologist, family and couple’s therapist, PhD candidate. Currently works at the Pedagogical Assistance Service of Budapest, Institution of the 22nd District, and at the University of Debrecen, Human Sciences PhD School.