The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently recognised gaming addiction as an official medical disorder.

But as parents, how do we know if our child has a gaming problem? And if they do, how do we address the issue?

At the 72nd World Health Assembly, held in Switzerland recently, 194 members of the WHO made the unanimous decision to include ‘gaming disorder’ in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11).

Accepting that online games can be addictive is a step close to addressing the epidemic of parents trying to manage their kids’ gaming disorders.

So what exactly is ‘gaming disorder’?

According to the ICD-11, gaming disorder is a pattern of gaming behaviour characterised by…

impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

The new classification, which will come into effect on 1 January 2022, reflects a consensus of experts from different disciplines and various countries worldwide.

Ideally, the classification will lead to increased attention and awareness of the disorder.

And it’s hoped that with both health professionals and parents alerted to the risks of gaming disorder,  prevention and treatment measures can be introduced.

young boy playing computer games getting angry

Mixed feelings regarding the risks of gaming addiction

In spite of concerns that online games can lead to aggressive and anti-social behaviour – the WHO has met strong opposition from the global gaming industry.

Okay, so the fact the global games industry has kicked up a stink isn’t really surprising. However, experts also question the WHO’s decision.

Reports state that a paper in the Journal of Behavioural Addictions said there was ‘weak scientific basis for gaming disorder’.

While it didn’t deny the existence of gaming addiction, it claimed that more research is needed.

Others say that by relying on a diagnosis of ‘gaming addiction’, we may end up overlooking issues such as anxiety and depression.

My child plays online games, should I be worried?

As parents, it’s understandable that we might be left feeling anxious or worried about our kids’ online gaming habits. Particularly when you hear about kids’ becoming aggressive, abusive or causing family conflict because of gaming addiction.

However, the WHO reports that gaming disorder affects only a small percentage of people who play video or online games.

In spite of this, it’s important that parents are aware of the amount of time their kids are spending on gaming activities. In particular, if you notice that your child is choosing to play video games rather than take part in any other activities you may wish to consider seeking professional help.

Gaming addiction – the warning signs

Psychology Today reports the following signs that may indicate a child has an unhealthy interest in playing video games:

  • Loss of interest in other activities
  • Declining academically
  • Chooses to play video games over time with friends and family or doing activities they previously enjoyed
  • Negative moods, language, attitudes, or behaviour
  • Poor sleeping habits, such as not getting enough sleep

From personal experience, my nine-year-old son talks incessantly about his game – even when he can see I’m clearly not interested (not my finest parenting moment!).

When I tell him he needs to stop his game and put the iPad away he can become angry, defensive, difficult. And usually all three at the same time, making my life just joyous

To prevent me from stopping him from playing his game he has taken to hiding with his iPad – in the cubby, squished down the site of the sofa (yes, really) and just yesterday I found him lying under his bed.

I’ve noticed that he’ll even sacrifice the most basic of human needs (sleep, eating, going to the toilet) to continue playing his game.

Should I be worried? I think I already know the answer.

two young boys playing games on tablet under a doona

What to do if you suspect your child has a gaming addiction

Not all games are bad and not every child who loves playing online games has an addiction.

Yet it’s handy to know what to do if you do feel that your child is addicted to gaming or has the potential. Here are a few practical ways to address the situation.

  • Remove any screens from your child’s bedroom
  • Limit their screen time. Read about the appropriate levels of screen time and talk to your child about it
  • Encourage your child to get involved in activities outside of the game
  • Don’t use playing the game as a reward
  • Track your child’s game time by only allowing them to play where you can see them
  • Use tools, such as a timer, to measure his game time
  • Intervene early and stick to your decisions regarding how long is appropriate to play and what time of the day

Keen to hear more about online addiction? This expert says giving your child a smartphone is like giving them cocaine. Find out about the problems of excessive screen time, plus clue up on the screen time guidelines for kids.

Author

Leanne is Mum Central's Editor-in-Chief. A former Sydneysider, she turned her ideas of a sea change into reality and now lives with her family in beautiful South-West WA. A lover of yoga and travel, like most mums, she’s on a quest to create a better work-life balance. When she’s not pulling socks out from behind the sofa or sponging little hand prints off the walls, she’s in the kitchen trying to dream up exciting lunch box ideas for her three cheeky monkeys.

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