How to help your child break their video game addiction 

Many parents grapple with how to get their kids off devices – and gaming addiction can be particularly troublesome to youngsters and their families. 

The World Health Organisation recently classified video game addiction or “gaming disorder” as a real disease – and it is believed up to 16,500 Australians could be affected.  

Gaming disorder is where players have impaired control and give priority to gaming over other activities, despite negative consequences. 

Western Sydney University researcher Dr Joanne Orlando, who speaks regularly on this topic, says gaming addiction in children impacts family, social and school life. 

Why kids get hooked on video games  

Dr Orlando says some people are simply more prone to addiction.  

“People have predispositions to addictions,” she says. 

And there’s other psychological or mental health factors that exacerbates that. 

“Kids might use gaming for escapismIf they’re highly stressed, very sensitive – just don’t feel like they fit in, they turn to video games. It can mask what the problem really is.” 

Video game addiction often starts in late primary school,” she says. 

“Playing lots of video games might mean something quite bad is happening at home or school.”

Dr Orlando says gaming disorder covers all devices, but is specific to gaming – not internet or social media use. 

“We find people with an addiction are not playing on their phone; they have a dedicated desktop or gaming machine where they get in to full on gaming mode,” she says. 

video game addiction

How to know when gaming is becoming a problem  

She says the problem is complex and that parents should look at their child’s relationship with gaming, not just the time spent on it.  

“A child could spend hours a day on video games but not be addicted,” she says.

“Like gambling or alcoholism, it’s when it starts impacting your life.  

“Everything might be falling down around you, but you become increasingly dependent on ‘that thing’ and video game addiction is the same.” 

What to do if your child is hooked on video games 

Dr Orlando suggests talking to children about their gaming and find out what they love about it. 

Her tips for managing children and gaming include:

  • Always have another activity ready for when they step away from gaming such as dinner or a family outing.
  • When calling a child off a game, give them time to finish to avoid frustrating arguments.

Dr Orlando says a GP would refer a child to a mental health professional for a diagnosis after problem behaviours had been present for 12 months.  

“There would then be therapy sessions, such as family, individual or cognitive behaviour therapy to dig deep and work out what kind of factors are influencing the addiction,” Dr Orlando says.  

She says things that often help children through gaming addiction include exercise and art therapy, along with psychological treatments.   

She says medication is a last resort, but more research is being done. 

Written by Sally Heppleston.