Your teenage boy has turned into someone else. Once outgoing, affectionate and funny, he now shuts himself in his room, endlessly playing computer games. He is surly when interrupted, snappish when away from his games, and reluctant to do anything else, including see his friends. Your attempts to curb his time online are met with despair and rage.
It looks very much like an unhelpful preoccupation at best, and may even be an obsession, compulsion or addiction.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), internet gaming is not an addiction, rather a “condition for further study”. And further studies have indeed been made.
Internet gaming disorder — the official term — has been researched, and found to be most common among male adolescents aged 12 to 20 years of age, and is more prevalent in Asian countries than North America and Europe. In addition, excessive internet gaming can be associated with emotional regulation difficulty, including mood and anxiety disorders.
The American Psychiatric Association's proposal for a potential diagnosis includes five out of nine of the following criteria in a time span of one year. Psychology Today lists the criteria as:
- Preoccupation or obsession with internet games
- Withdrawal symptoms when not playing internet games
- Increased tolerance – more time needs to be spent playing the games
- Continued overuse of internet games even when negative effects are known
- Loss of interest in other activities, such as sports, hobbies and socializing
- Lying about internet game use
- Use of internet games to escape, such as to relieve anxiety or guilt
- Has lost or put at risk a relationship or an opportunity because of internet game use
- Attempts to stop or reduce gaming time fail.
All these criteria are weighted equally, so any five will do. However, one overriding factor must be present: significant distress felt by the person engaged in gaming (not just concerned family members). Gamers themselves must want to stop, but can not, and feel helpless, sick, or fearful because of it. Only these individuals may eventually be diagnosed with this proposed disorder.
Are you concerned about your child and what may be an unhealthy preoccupation with online gaming? Contact the BFDC, we can help.