What every parent needs to know about 'gaming disorder'

Your child may love video games. But how do you know if he or she is addicted? Photo: Getty Images.
Your child may love video games. But how do you know if he or she is addicted? Photo: Getty Images.

Video game addiction is a term that has been used for years by parents and mental health professionals who believe that it’s a real disorder.

Now, there’s more weight behind their argument: The World Health Organization (WHO) has including “gaming disorder” as a new mental health condition listed in the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases.

According to WHO, there are three major criteria for the diagnosis of gaming disorder: Gaming takes precedence over other activities so much that a person often stops doing other things, a person continues gaming even when it causes issues in their life or they feel that they can’t stop, and gaming causes significant distress and impairments in a person’s relationships with others, as well as their work or school life.

If your child gets sucked into a game for a few days, but goes back to normal after that, they wouldn’t qualify: Instead, people must engage in this behaviour for at least 12 months, WHO says.

Gaming disorder is based on three different criteria. [Photo: Getty]
Gaming disorder is based on three different criteria. [Photo: Getty]

It’s worth noting that WHO’s stance on gaming addiction is different from that of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the handbook used by health professionals in the U.S. and other countries to help diagnose mental health disorders. The DSM-5 calls out “Internet Gaming Disorder” but says it’s a condition that warrants more clinical research and experience before it can be classified in the book as a formal disorder.

WHO says on its website that all people who participate in gaming should be aware that gaming disorder is a real condition, and that it’s important to be mindful of how often they play video games. However, they also point out that gaming disorder only affects a small amount of people who game.

It’s only natural that the news would make you give your child’s gaming system the side-eye.

In general, parents should limit the amount of screen time their children have daily, and gaming is included in that, along with TV, computers, phones, and tablet use, Gina Posner, MD, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Screen time isn’t recommended at all for kids who are 18 months or younger, but for children who are older than that up to five, it’s generally recommended that they have not more than one hour of screen time, she says. For those who are six and up, it’s more at the parents’ discretion. “The maximum amount of screen time should be two hours a day, but less is always better,” Posner says.

Posner says that it’s important to set clear limits for your child when it comes to screen time and gaming. For example, say that your child has to do their homework first and/or get out and play for an hour before they’re allowed to game. And even then, make it clear that they’re only allowed to do so for a set period of time.

If your child starts fussing when they’re not allowed to be gaming all day, it’s a clear sign that you need to cut back, Posner says.

Treatment for gaming disorder is generally based in cognitive behavioral therapy, which would generally be done in two phases, Simon Rego, PsyD, chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. The first is raising awareness for your child that their gaming is a problem, and looking for triggers and cues that could make the gaming habit better or worse. A mental health professional would also address problematic thoughts associated with either stopping playing or the thoughts that keep them gaming, he says.

The goal then is to step down the behavior from something that’s pathological to problematic, and then being able to manage it in a “reasonable way,” Rego says. People don’t necessarily have to quit gaming altogether, but they do need to learn to better manage it with parameters, like only gaming with friends during select times during the day vs. doing it at night alone in their room.

If you suspect that your child has a gaming disorder, it’s important to seek help for it.

Just know that this is still a new diagnosis and you may need to do some sleuthing to find someone who specialises in this kind of behaviour.

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