By Dr. Joshua Mears
One of the most common concerns that I hear in the counseling office when meeting with teens and their parents is the struggle in regard to management of video games and screen time. The tendency for teenagers to spend hours and hours gaming online, learning the Fortnite dance moves, and collaborating with YouTube gamers has become a national pastime. Parents commonly describe this pattern as an “obsession” or an “addiction” that is controlling the lives of their teens and children.
The most common parent-child conflicts I hear about are surrounding the concern that arises when parents attempt to set limits on the amount of their children’s video game habits. Teens will vehemently report that their gaming use is normal and a standard practice for their peers and friend group. The removal of these technology privileges can cause aggressive and escalated conflicts in the home.
So what should a Christian family do to establish a healthy pattern of interaction and structure surrounding the use of the Internet and video games?
The first thing that Christian parents need to do is to educate themselves on the realities of habitual gaming and the potential consequences for when this behavior is becoming compulsive and obsessive. Having a good understanding of the concerns and dangers will ensure that they can be informed and sensitive with how they communicate their concerns to their children.
There is a prominent development in the healthcare world to recognize the addictive potential of electronic gaming misuse. The World Health Organization and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness have begun exploring disorders (Internet Gaming Disorder), which can help conceptualize the patterns and develop interventions and treatment for such behavioral concerns.
The researchers that are studying this issue cite the following concerns:
- increased prevalence of mood changes
- mental preoccupation (hard to think about anything other than gaming)
- lack of any self-control with time management
- an increased tolerance (time duration) to feel satisfied with the gaming activity
- disrupted sleep hygiene
- withdrawal symptoms
- continuation of the behavior despite significant harm in social, academic, and family functioning
Broadly stated, this is a pattern that can be classified as an Impulse Control Disorder, meaning that the ability for children and teens to self-regulate the behavior has become more and more difficult to handle on their own. There are also more and more neuropsychological clinical findings that are showing that the behavioral addictions (gaming, Internet use) have many of the same causal factors and neurobiological impacts on the brain as substance use disorders.
A psychological assessment inventory has been created in order to assess the potential of Internet gaming addiction. It is called the Internet Gaming Disorder Scale (Pontes & Griffiths, 2015). The questions are provided below as a reference to assess the nature of severity of the concerns as they may be impacting your family, although professional evaluation is recommended.
- Do you feel preoccupied with your gaming behavior? (Some examples: Do you think about previous gaming activity or anticipate the next gaming session? Do you think gaming has become the dominant activity in your daily life?)
- Do you feel more irritability, anxiety, or even sadness when you try to either reduce or stop your gaming activity?
- Do you feel the need to spend an increasing amount of time engaged in gaming in order to achieve satisfaction or pleasure?
- Do you systematically fail when trying to control or cease your gaming activity?
- Have you lost interest in previous hobbies and other entertainment activities as a result of your engagement with the game?
- Have you continued your gaming activity despite knowing it was causing problems between you and other people?
- Have you deceived any of your family members, therapists, or others because of the amount of your gaming activity?
- Do you play in order to temporarily escape or relieve a negative mood (e.g., helplessness, guilt, anxiety)?
- Have you jeopardized or lost an important relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of your gaming activity?
All of the information and education surrounding the dangers of gaming and technology abuse should serve as a caution for parents and teenagers. The realities of using gaming and technology as a substitute for healthy coping and leisure time is in fact a real concern. However, it is imperative that parents attempt to understand and align with their children and the desires that they have to be part of the social world that they live in. Helping children set limits and reinforcing positive use of leisure time within moderation should be a guide within those conversations. The answer does not need to be zero tolerance and complete abstaining from all gaming.
There are many Scripture verses that can be used to help guide discussions with teenagers about edifying use of their time and talents. For example, John 9:4 states, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work.” Or as the psalmist states in Psalm 31:15: “My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.”
These words of encouragement from Scripture can help a family talk wisely about the vocation (our calling and purpose) as stewards of our time and how we can honor and appreciate each moment that God has given us here on the earth.
If your child or teen struggles with Internet or gaming use, our counselors can help. Call 800-438-1772 or visit our Request Appointment page on our website.