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Do you have a child who spends a lot of time in front of a computer screen playing video games? About 9% of children are what is considered hardcore gamers and it seems that percentage holds true across many different countries. The question is- what is the difference between a lot of video gaming versus what is now being called an addiction?

And if your child is a video game addict, what can that mean for the child?

While excessive gaming itself can be a risk factor for addiction, other risk factors include lower social competence and greater impulsivity. These kids have more trouble fitting in with other kids. Once they become addicted, they are more likely to become depressed, anxious and have other social phobias. Another potential outcome is watching school performance take a downward spiral.

Whereas it seemed plausible that depression would be a risk factor for video gaming addiction, researchers who studied some 3,000 children for a study in the journal Pediatrics found that the opposite was true. In these children, from 3rd and 4th grade as well as 7th and 8th grade, it was found that in kids who started gaming in an excessive way, depression and anxiety got worse. When they stopped the gaming, the depression actually got better.

In the population of kids studied, 83% played video games at some time and 10% had played games in the past. The average time of video gaming: 20.5 to 22.5 hours a week. Playing video games as much as 30 hours a week contributed to the addiction as well as less than average empathy, having greater impulsive behaviour and as previously noted, being less socially competent. In this study, the gaming proceeded the depression rather than depression driving the child to the game.

Pathological gaming shares a lot of features with other known addictions but at the present time is not considered a psychological disorder. As a parent, you should be keeping an eye on exactly how much time is spent gaming. The study noted that those children who played less than 19 hours a week were not at risk. If your child spends so much time gaming that they don’t talk about anything else, that should set your alarm bells off. Gaming takes away time that could be spent on activities that have an educational benefit the authors point out.

The American Academy of Pediatric guidelines suggest no more than 2 hours of screen time a day and that also includes television, computer and video games. Now with the advent of smartphones with computer-like abilities,  that represents yet another window for video gaming. The study also showed that this gaming is not a passing phase as over a 2-year period those who started off as excessive gamers remained so.

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