Gaming and social media usage is growing and will likely continue to grow over the next several years. And, in many cases, both gaming and social media offer kids an opportunity to relax, take a break from homework and talk to friends in an environment where they feel comfortable. But, does online gaming and social media pose dangers to our kids? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Gaming and social media can become a source of addictive and compulsive behaviors in our kids, and it is something we all need to watch out for.
In their truest form, gaming, and social media can have positive effects on our kids. Many kids have learned new skills, obtained knowledge about a particular topic, or have developed a love of art or music through the use of a gaming system or social site. This side of the technology offers a positive outlook. However, gaming and social media can have a negative effect on some kids and can cause them to channel all of their energy and focus into playing a game, watching videos, or posting information. And, in some cases, kids can develop an addictive or compulsive behavior that can lead kids to withdraw from their real-world life, friends, and hobbies.
How Can This Happen?
Online gaming typically revolves around a goal – to win. And when you win, you experience a level of excitement and enthusiasm that you want to have over and over again. This “need” to continually win can cause a child to want to play more often and for longer periods of time. Social media, however, plays on the idea that kids like to be involved and don’t like to miss out on things. This can promote the need to check their feed, watch another video, subscribe to stay up-to-date, or like another post. It’s the constant need to play or check again that promotes a level of compulsive.
Does this happen to all kids? No, not all. This is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Many kids play a few games, or check a few apps and move on. As parents should we still be on alert? Definitely.
What Exactly Are We Watching For?
Let’s start with the definitions.
- Addiction: the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.
- Compulsive Behavior: actions that are engaged in repeatedly and consistently, despite the fact that they are experienced as aversive or troubling.
For parents, these definitions may seem harsh, but it is important to take them seriously and know that gaming and social media addiction is a possibility. Children displaying addictive or compulsive behaviors may exhibit the following signs:
- A decline in personal hygiene – not showering, brushing their hair, brushing their teeth, etc.
- A decline in performance at school, in household responsibilities or in other organized activities.
- Neglecting friends, family members, or hobbies that they used to enjoy outside of online activities.
- Becoming withdrawn – losing their appetite, not getting enough sleep, becoming agitated, emotional outbursts.
- Demonstrating a need to game or check a social site and not being able to set limits for themselves.
- Getting angry, irritable or showing signs of anxiety when they are not able to play, or check their phone.
Can This Really Cause My Child Harm?
Video games and social media can cause my child harm? Yep, and the effects can be both short, and long-term. A few of the potential impacts of over-use include:
- Increase in weight gain due to sedentary activity.
- Poor diet and the potential for an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Poor posture, vision issues and sleep disorders due to being hunched over, or looking at a screen for too long.
- Decrease is real-world socialization skills with peers and social skills that will be needed for adulthood.
- Loss in concentration, or the ability to focus, due to the rapid movements/activity that takes place in games or on social.
- Potential for increased aggression or violence based on the types of games played.
- Avoidance of typical developmental challenges that kids face and learn to deal with while growing up.
- Avoiding real-world problems, including how to emotionally deal with them.
- Potential for decreased decision-making capabilities and impulse control.
Yes, it paints a grim picture. But that’s not the end of it. One of the other major issues is harder to quantify because it’s about the opportunities that kids are missing out on by spending too much time online. Real friendships, exploring new hobbies, excelling in art, music, sports, or another activity could be missed out on because kids are focusing on gaming or social media instead.
What Can I Do If This Might Be Impacting My Child?
As with most situations relating to kids, we strongly encourage talking to your children, with one caveat – avoid using the word addiction. That word paints a picture when you say it out loud and could cause your child to shut down, not listen or become defensive. Instead, ask questions to get them to open up and talk to you about gaming or social media. How do they feel after playing/scrolling for hours upon hours? Do they feel like gaming/social is impacting their schoolwork, friendships or other activities? What do they enjoy about gaming/social? What don’t they enjoy? Do your best to listen, understand and be open to what they have to say. In addition, share what you have noticed about how their behavior may have changed, how their interests may have changed, or how their schoolwork may be suffering – in a non-threatening, conversational type approach.
After the conversation(s), consider implementing a few changes. Take things slow if you need to.
- Model the behavior you would like to see. If less overall screen time is the goal, apply the same idea to yourself.
- Monitor what your child is engaging in. What social sites do they use and what games do they play – learn about them, so you can talk about them.
- Observe your child’s behavior, and your own when online activity increases.
- Create structure around screen time. If too much screen time has impacted school work, consider limiting screen time during the week. If an entire weekend is typically spent gaming, consider putting a time limit on the weekends. Follow the structure that you put in place for your child as well.
- Introduce and encourage other activities. Family game night, trying a new activity at home or with others, listening to different music, or dabbling in art. Use your creativity, and ask your child what they might be interested in as well.
- Consider a family digital detox. This may seem extreme, and there may be quite a bit of resistance on this one, but it can truly be good for all those involved if you stick to it. Modeling the behavior you expect will be key here.