Online gaming and the challenges this can bring is something that seems to be hitting the headlines a lot recently. In my own work I’ve had parents contacting me with concerns about their child’s online gaming behaviour. I thought I’d do a little bit of research about online gaming to find out a little bit more to share with you.
I had a look at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which is a handbook used by mental health professionals. It helps with the diagnostic process and has descriptions, symptoms and criteria professionals can use to help with diagnosing mental conditions. When a mental health professional is considering diagnosis of a condition, they would generally look at the DSM-5 for guidance around decision making. At this point or in this version of the DSM, Internet Gaming Disorder has made it to the Conditions for Further Study section of the handbook. The conditions for further study section are where the authors put areas which require further research and study. The information about each disorder is the best evidence from the field so far but did not meet the high standard for inclusion within the section for official mental disorder diagnosis. When the DSM-5 is revised the evidence will be reviewed and a decision made to exclude or include this new diagnosis in the main body of the book. At this stage it could be said that the jury is out.
I thought you might be interested in what the researchers and experts in this area did think might be criteria for an internet gaming disorder. This is my paraphrasing from the DSM-5 and not a direct quotation. The proposed criteria provide up to 9 areas of which at least 5 must be implicated over a year and must be causing clinically significant distress. Someone would be preoccupied with gaming to the exclusion of other daily activities, they would demonstrate symptoms of withdrawal when they are unable to access the game, they would require increasing amounts of time on the game, they would have experienced failure in attempts to control the time spent gaming, they would demonstrate a lack of interest in any other previously enjoyed leisure time activities, despite awareness of the negative effects of the gaming they would continue, deceptive about their gaming activities, gaming is being used to escape negative moods, has sacrificed relationships, education or work because of internet gaming. Rightly so there is a high barrier to get over for someone to be considered to have a real difficulty with gaming. Most people would not fit these preliminary criteria. In fact, the prevalence cited in DSM-5 based on studies conducted in some Asian countries on adolescents appears to be 8.4% for males and 4.5% for females. Please keep in mind that these figures are not necessarily generalisable as the data comes from a limited part of the world and has not been able to be contextualised with other research studies conducted in other parts of the world. The DSM criteria does give us some idea of what the experts in the field consider to be problematic behaviour. But in common with other diagnostic criteria the problem of what to do about challenging behaviours isn’t covered.
I had a bit of a fossick about in some of the recent research studies to see if there were any pointers there. From a 2017 article titled, A cross-sectional study of heavy gaming, problematic gaming symptoms, and online socializing in adolescents (fully referenced at the end of this blog post) I found the following. When young people are socially active online, they seem to demonstrate fewer symptoms of or met fewer criteria of internet gaming disorder as defined by the DSM-5. Female heavy gamers experienced lower self-esteem but made fewer reports of loneliness and social anxiety than average adolescents. The authors concluded that for some adolescents who combine what might be considered heavy gaming with active social media it appeared that the social media may be moderating the negative impacts of the gaming.
Another article had some interesting information for parents. Parental Influences on Pathological Symptoms of Video-Gaming Among Children and Adolescents: A Prospective Study published in 2015(fully referenced at the end of this blog post). This study identified that restrictive parental rules and regulations may not be effective at reducing the negative symptoms of intensive internet gaming. They studied parents setting restrictions on time, place and content of gaming and found no empirical evidence that this was helpful. They found that the quality of parent child relationships was key. A two-way process of parental mediation allowed moderation of gaming while one-way parental imposition of restrictions did not help.
John Parsons’ book Keeping Your Children Safe Online: A guide for New Zealand parents, published by Potton and Burton, has a chapter dedicated to online addictions. John provides advice which aligns with the 2015 study in that managing your child’s interactions online requires a two-way relationship.
Online gaming is often a social activity, children and young people play with peers they have met at school, sporting or other social occasions, at times they may be gaming with people from other places in the world. There are even some studies indicating that the visual spatial skills of children who game online are superior to those who do not. There is no doubt that there are very real benefits to our children and young people engaging with online gaming.
What is important is that we as parents actively involve ourselves with this by finding out who our children are gaming with, ensuring that they are prepared to deal with any difficulties encountered within the game, discussing good limits to gaming such as only gaming when homework is completed and taking breaks for other social interactions like meals or visiting friends. We as parents also need to be ready to deal calmly with situations when things do go wrong so that our child feels able to tell us they are having a problem.
Carras, M.C., Rooij, A.J., Mheen, D.V., Musci, R., Xue, Q., & Mendelson, T. (2017). Video gaming in a hyperconnected world: A cross-sectional study of heavy gaming, problematic gaming symptoms, and online socializing in adolescents. Computers in human behavior, 68, 472-479.
Choo, Hyekyung & Sim, Timothy & K. F. Liau, Albert & Gentile, Douglas & Khoo, Angeline. (2015). Parental Influences on Pathological Symptoms of Video-Gaming Among Children and Adolescents: A Prospective Study. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 24. 10.1007/s10826-014-9949-9.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.