As you wind down from a fun holiday season, count the number of gadgets, games and gaming accessories that were under your tree. Were you one of the many who bought the latest gaming console or game for someone this Christmas?
Well then, you are contributing to the downfall of the mental health of America. OK, not necessarily, but a decision by the World Health Organization should give you some food for thought anyway.
Next year, for the first time ever, the WHO will add "gaming disorder" to its International Classification of Diseases.
What are the symptoms? The WHO’s rough draft description mentions video gamers who can’t seem to control how often or how long they play. It also talks about those who want to play video games to the point that it takes priority over other life interests and daily activities.
The final point describes people who continue excessive video gaming, even after they’ve suffered negative consequences because of it. The WHO’s recommendation to doctors and other health care workers is to look for this pattern over at least 12 months to diagnose gaming disorder, but that it could take less time if the symptoms are severe.
While you may envision teenage boys as the only ones holed up in their basements playing games like Call of Duty, you’d be wrong. Yes, young men do make up a huge share of those who play video games in the United States, but many others are getting their game on too.
A recent Pew Research Center survey shows 72 percent of men ages 18-29 play video games, but so do 49 percent of women in that same age group. And while many believe it is only unemployed boomerang kids playing video games, the research also shows that adults with jobs play nearly as much as those without a paycheck.
So is video gaming all bad? Of course not. Plenty of people play video games and are perfectly normal, functioning adults. In fact, Newsweek reports a small study out of the University of Montreal shows that playing video games can be beneficial for older adults.
In this study, some participants took piano lessons, some played Super Mario 64, and some did nothing. After having MRI scans and taking performance tests, researchers found only those who played on the Nintendo gained more gray matter in their brains. While learning to play with Mario, these older adults showed signs of improved memory.
The American Psychiatric Association does not yet identify gaming addiction as a mental disorder. In fact, earlier this year, a study reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that most video gamers say they do not have any symptoms of gaming disorder.
The study concluded that the percentage of people who might qualify for the disorder is extremely small. A psychology professor at Villanova University, Patrick M. Markey, Ph.D., commented on the study, saying, “video game addiction might be a real thing, but it is not the epidemic that some have made it out to be.”
This just takes common sense. Can video games become addictive? Of course, just like anything else. We need to be smart as parents to teach our kids correct screen time limits as they grow so they are more able to have self-control when they become adults.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no screen time for children under 18 months. For toddlers 18-24 months, it encourages high-quality programming that parents watch with and explain to their children. The group suggests the same for kids ages 2 to 5, and recommends no more than one hour of screen time per day.
For children ages 6 and older, make sure screen time doesn’t take the place of other important things like sleep and physical activity. There’s even a great way to help you create a family media plan here.
Happy New Year. Let’s tackle 2018 with the right tools and knowledge to keep our kids safe online. I’m here to help.