(WTNH)- Giving a child a video game may not be the best idea, according to addiction expert Nancy Petry at UConn Health. More than 90 percent of children ages 2 to 17 play video games. For most children, it’s just one of their many activities; but for some video gaming can become a problematic, time-consuming, addictive behavior. This holiday season the video game industry is expected to make $13.1 billion in product sales and an additional $35.91 billion in sales of mobile apps and other digital video game downloads and content, according to SuperData Research Inc. However, Petry says giving one video game as a gift may be okay if your child doesn’t have an issue with too much gaming and participates in a wide variety of social and physical activities with others. But she says parents need to closely monitor their child’s video game use. More than 36 percent of children play video games every day. The average child plays 1.5 hours a day on the weekend and 30 minutes on a weekday. But some children can develop an addiction when they begin to play for very long hours. Problems start to arise when video game hours start increasing to 12 hours or more per week.
Children with a video game addiction play 3 to 8 hours daily, or even more. In fact, more than 1.5 percent of adolescents develop a full-blown addiction to gaming, while others can develop less severe problems. Boys are at much greater risk than girls because they play electronic games more, especially the types of games that more often lead to problems. Also, children who are more socially isolated, or have depression or attention deficit disorder (ADD) are at greater risk of developing a gaming addiction.
The warning signs parents should be aware of include: new problems at school, such as poor grades, trouble or a decline in social interactions with family and friends, and a reduction in other hobbies they once enjoyed. Covering up how much they are gaming is another sign that things may be going wrong.
To prevent a child’s video gaming or digital screen addiction, Petry urges parents to limit their child’s exposure from the beginning, and to heed the latest advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
This fall the AAP updated their guidelines calling for a limit to digital media exposure for children of all ages. For infants up to 18 months, they recommend no digital media exposure for healthy brain development and connections with their parents. The AAP reduced its prior recommendation of no more than two hours in front of the TV or screen for kids ages 2 to 5 to now just one hour per day or less. For those 6 and older, they leave it up to parents to determine and monitor screen time.
Petry urges parents of older children and adolescents to carefully consider appropriate screen time, because kids with clearly defined limits are less likely to develop problems than those without. Parents should also make sure their child, regardless of age, is involved in other activities beyond the screen.
Petry has launched the first study of its kind nationally at UConn Health to help parents deal with their child’s video game addiction. Compared to standard referrals, the study is testing the benefits of one-on-one counseling with one or both parents, and the child if he or she is willing to participate. The treatment coaches them on how to better understand what gaming addiction is, why their child derives pleasure from the activity, and the best ways to monitor and intervene to reduce their child’s gaming.