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Gaming Addiction Linked to Aggression in Children

Posted by Andrew Greenfield on 1 August 2022
Gaming Addiction Linked to Aggression in Children

I recently contributed to a story for Channel 10 news on the topic of ‘How much screen time is hurting our kids’ . In my practice I talk to parents and caregivers about this issue as well as how much screen time is appropriate for children and teenagers and some of the difficulties associated with enforcing rules and limitations.

Before I answer this question, it is important to understand that excessive screen time can affect toddlers, children, adolescents and teenagers in various ways and can affect adults as well. Excessive screen time can affect a student’s sleep routines, social interaction, concentration, academic ability amongst other factors. It is important to understand that ‘unhealth screen use’ can lead to secondary issues such as depression, anxiety, social isolation, lying, withdrawing from friends.

In a recent study by Associate Professor Wayne Warburton, Psychologist and researcher at Macquarie University’s School of Psychological Sciences, it was reported that ‘too much video gaming can have serious behavioural impacts on children and teens and in extreme cases can lead to missing school and aggression behaviour towards family members’.

In the study it was reported that 2.8 per cent of Australian teenagers were affected by Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD), a disorder which has been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) since 2013. In my practice I do see many children and adolescents with difficulty regulating their device usage, however it should be noted that only a relatively small percentage of these children and adolescents can be said to fit the diagnostic criteria for a ‘ disorder’. In order to be classified as a disorder the device usage or gaming (as in IGD) must be having serious impacts across multiple areas of a young person’s life, such as schoolwork, relationship and mental health.

The question that I raised earlier of how much screen time is too much, is one that will be debated for years to come. The recommended amount of time on devices will obviously depend on a child’s age, maturity, parental involvement, family dynamics, personality and so many other factors. Generally for under twos, national guidelines recommend no screens. For those aged between 2 and 5 the recommendation is up to 45 minutes of educational media a day alongside an adult present to guide that viewing. For school aged children, guidelines have been replaced by a recommendation to develop a family media plan where you can decide limits together with your children. When children are involved in this decision making, they are more likely to adhere by the decisions.

For older children generally anything above 4 hours a day, these kids are less likely to be able to lead a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

There are various warming signs that parents can look out for when it comes to what I call ‘device aggression’. These signs can include:

  • Spending increasing amount of time in their bedrooms
  • Declining academic performance
  • Lying about screen time usage
  • Behavioural issues
  • Poor sleep hygiene - inadequate sleep schedules and insufficient sleep
  • Abandoning social activities and extra curricula activities
  • Loss of interest to see friends
  • Excessive irritability and tiredness
  • Unprovoked or out of the ordinary outbursts

These devices are ‘smart’ devices but we have to be smarter than the devices!

Recommendation for Parents

  • Encourage unplugged time
  • Create tech-free zones, days or times
  • Consider using apps that control the length of time a child can use a device
  • Keep screens out of kid’s bedrooms
  • Eliminate background television

It is important to understand that devices are designed to be addictive. Apps often use intermittent reinforcement that gives us small hits of dopamine and addicts us to them. Often parents have their own addiction issues which does not provide great modelling for their children. These devices are ‘smart’ devices but we all have to be smarter than the devices!

To view the story on Channel 10 news https://youtu.be/W7rix8UHxJY

Andrew GreenfieldAuthor:Andrew Greenfield
About: Andrew Greenfield is a Consultant Child and Educational Psychologist based in Sydney and is the Principal of Psych Support Assessment Services Pty Ltd, a private psychology practice in the Eastern and Northern suburbs of Sydney. Andrew has had over 25 years experience working with toddlers, children, adolescents and adults with a range of Educational and Developmental issues, including Learning Difficulties, Attention Deficit Disorder and other developmental and behavioural problems, using major tests of general ability, academic attainment, continuous performance tasks and neuropsychological tests.
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