Tackling your child’s gaming issue

With Christmas approaching we anticipate there being many gaming gadgets appearing under trees around the country.  Kids will be ecstatic, but many parents will be worried about the effect this new gadget will have on their off spring.

We asked Dr Michele McDowell for some advice.


As an educational psychologist, I am witnessing an increasingly common pattern: once children and young people have had complete access to electronics for six months or more, their behaviour begins to change.

Research has shown that excessive gaming can have a chemical effect on the body; MRI studies have found that gaming produces dopamine (a feel-good chemical) and the production of dopamine pushes the gamer to seek bigger thrills each time.

Psychologists at the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University found that, compared with healthy individuals, excessive gaming leads to young people exhibiting behaviours similar to people suffering with drug addictions.

So concerning has this pattern of behaviour become that the DSM5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has identified Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) as an area of concern.

Alarmingly, the groups of people most impacted by IGD are children and teenagers. The most recent OFCOM study indicated that weekly hours spent gaming increase with age, ranging from 6 hours 12 minutes for ages 3 to 4 years to 13 hours 48 minutes for ages 12 to 15 years.

Does my child have a problem?

I talk parents that are concerned that their child might have a gaming addiction through the DSM5 criteria. The DSM5 criteria suggests that children exhibiting 5 or more of 9 criteria within a 12-month period may identify as having IGD.

These criteria include:

1. Preoccupation with games: thinking about previous gaming activity or anticipating playing the next game; gaming becomes the dominant activity in daily life.

2. Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away: Symptoms are typically described as irritability, anxiety, or sadness.

3. Tolerance: the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in games.

4. Unsuccessful attempts to control or reduce participation in games.

4. Loss of interest in real-life relationships, previous hobbies, and other entertainment.

5. Continued excessive use of games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems.

6. Has deceived family members, therapists, or others regarding the amount of gaming.

7. Use of games to escape or relieve a negative mood (e.g. feelings of helplessness, guilt, or anxiety).

8. Has jeopardised or lost a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of participation in games.

What does it mean if my child is showing signs of excessive gaming?

Parents are desperate to know what they can do to get their children back. I advise the following ABC approach:

Awareness: Write down how much actual screen time and gaming your child is taking part in. Be honest.

Behaviour: introduce a range of strategies to reduce gaming by:

  • Setting up a gaming contract/ chart with clear boundaries about when/for how long games can be played.
  • Introducing alternative activities and rewards chart.
  • Implementing a regular screen withdrawal/gaming detox.


Continually talk to your child about online safety.

Discuss the different aspects including privacy settings (ensure that they are not sharing their location), personal information and images, and how they can block unwanted messages.

Talk about the type of information that can be shared online, online identities and not meeting people they don’t know offline.

Keep communication open; it’s essential that your child feels that they can discuss technology with you in a non-judgemental space.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by how to manage gaming and screen time boundaries, then please look for support and seek professional advice.

Our thanks to Dr Michele McDowell and Families Magazine for this article.

Dr Michele McDowell is child and education psychologist, with 18 years’ experience in her field. In the last 5 years she’s seen a significant increase in cases involving excessive gaming behaviour in children and is keen to help change behaviour. For more information, visit www.mefinition.org/gaming

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