With over 215 million gamers in the United States, it’s no surprise that many are drawn to the entertainment, competition, and feel of community gaming that it can provide.

One seventeen-year-old gamer said he reaps such benefits because he enjoys multiplayer games that require teamwork. “Working together and having fun with your friends or other players is an escape from things like high school, and it’s very stressful,” he said.

While he experiences the positive aspects of gaming, he also appreciates the value of understanding how to set appropriate boundaries. Take interactive training videos for Kaiser Permanente to support his understanding of mental health and addiction. It was healthy weight gain training at home for him. “I learned how addiction works in the brain and how to recognize if something is addictive.”

For example, he said there are times when he plays for hours. “If I have a spare day, I don’t see it as a problem, but I’ve learned that if I prioritize playing video games over my homework or hanging out with friends or doing productive things, then it becomes a thing,” he said.

Cory Arans, MD, a clinical psychologist at Kaiser Permanente in Georgia, notes the following unhealthy signs: the games:

● Interferes with eating and sleeping or maintaining and gaining real-world relationships

● It becomes a priority over school or work

● Creates an urgent need to play

Because video games are designed to gain a sense of accomplishment, they target the reward center in the brain. “The reason we feel good about accomplishments is because we get a release of dopamine, and dopamine is supposed to happen with video game accomplishments and rewards in a similar way to gaining those accomplishments in real life,” Arrans said.

For example, making a game winning basket or defeating a world-destroying character in a video game is rewarding. “The chance of these accomplishments keeps coming up when you play, so it’s easy to want to keep playing for another minute, and then a few more minutes, until suddenly it’s another hour,” Aranz noted.

This can be particularly difficult for tweens and teens whose impulse control is not as neurologically developed as adults, so the urge to continue playing is something they may have a hard time resisting.

How to help teens cut back on games

Before addressing your concerns about a teen’s gaming habits, Emily Gonzalez Holland, COO of Cloud9 Esports, said it’s important to realize that video games are not inherently good or bad. “They can be both. They can be really cool and have damages as well.”

Rather than insisting that the teen plays games too much, “which may initially halt any progress in having a conversation,” Gonzalez Holland said it’s best to approach the topic with an open mind, compassion, and honesty. Saying, ‘We’re worried we missed you in these social circles’ or ‘We noticed you stopped showing up at Activity X’ is a good way to start the conversation.

Arans agreed. He said stick to the facts and how you feel without accusations. For example, point out the fact that their grades are suffering or that you used to see them every weekend but now only see them every two months. “That can’t be discussed. But if you say to them, ‘You play a lot,’ they can say something like, ‘I can stop this whenever I want,’ even though they have a hard time doing that,” Arrans said.

When gaming becomes an issue, consider the following:

Set expectations instead of throwing away toys. By telling your teen that they can play as long as their grades stay high, go to bed at a certain time, or spend time with friends offline, they will eventually replace playing with these activities.

“You can turn off the internet or get rid of their console, but it’s more about what they have to do to get the thing they want,” Arranz said. “Rewards are better than punishments. Rewards support the behavior you want. Punishments teach a child or teen not to engage in the activity when you are around.”

Set an agreed timer. If your teen is meeting expectations and playing games, setting a time limit can help them manage their use. Once the limit is agreed upon, setting the timer 15 minutes before the end time and at the end of the time can keep them on track.

Explain how video games are designed. If teens understand that video games are made with the intent of satisfying the brain’s reward system, they may admit that gaming can become a problem. “They’re likely to play less because teens don’t like to be controlled or manipulated,” Arrans said.

Talk to a mental health professional. If you need more help, connect your teen to a mental health professional who can determine if the child has mental health issues, such as anxiety, loneliness, or depression. “The continued need to play games may be motivated by a desire to avoid something dangerous,” Gonzalez Holland said.


The Hiding on her finger The Blog is a series of documentaries for the year 2022 Hiding in plain sight: youth mental illness, Produced and directed by Ewers Brothers Productions, executive produced by Ken Burns, and presented by WETA, the main PBS station in our nation’s capital, which premieres June 27-28 at 9/8c prime time on PBS stations across the country. It is now broadcast prime amazon.

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You’re not alone. If you or someone you know is going through a crisis, whether or not they are contemplating suicide, please call the toll-free National Suicide Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor. If you don’t want to talk on the phone, you can also send a text message. Crisis Text Line offers free mental health support. Text “10-18” or “SCRUBS” to 741741 for assistance. Call and text lines are open 24 hours a day.

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