By Donald Villeneuve
A past study of 3000 students in Singapore shows that one in ten were considered to be “gaming addicts” and the majority of them were greatly effected by the issue. Existing conditions such as behavioral problems were more likely possessed by the most fragile teens. Gaming can also explain additional mental issues.
“When children became addicted, their depression, anxiety, and social phobias got worse, and their grades dropped,” said Douglas A. Gentile, who operates the Media Research Lab at Iowa State University in Ames and worked on the study. “When they stopped being addicted, their depression, anxiety, and social phobias got better.”
While conditions such as ADD and depression are widely addressed by healthcare providers and doctors, there is a lack of focus on the effects of gaming on mental health. “We tend to approach it as ‘just’ entertainment, or just a game, and forget that entertainment still affects us; In fact, if it doesn’t affect us, we call it ‘boring!'”
The study required that educations hand out questionnaires to students in different grade levels which included questions regarding their social skills, gaming habits, performance in school and depression. The kids also answered 10 questions to find out if they were addicted to gaming; If they answered half in the positive, they were considered addicts.
The questions ranged from things like having done poorly in school due to a lack of effort, reduced test scores and forgetting household chores to spend more time playing video games. Students were also asked about whether they used games as a way to elude personal dilemmas or negative feelings.
On average, the teens said they played about 20 hours a week. Between 9 to 12 percent of boys qualified as addicted in this study, compared to 3 to 5 percent of girls. Of those teens who started out as addicts, more than eight in 10 remained so during the study. “It’s not simply a short-term problem for most children,” Gentile said.
While the researchers didn’t put a number on how many youngsters had mental issues, they did find that those who played extended hours, were more spontaneous or had poorer social skills were at greater risk of getting “addicted” over the 2-year period.
Those who did become addicted reported increasing symptoms of depression, anxiety and social phobia. Gentile said it appeared that unhealthy gaming habits were sparking the kids’ mental issues, which then in turn might cause them to increase their screen time and so forth. But he acknowledged his research didn’t prove that point.
In a past study, Gentile also found that teens who played games and watched TV frequently were prone to even more problems such as focusing on homework. However, that study couldn’t prove that screen time was at the root of the narrowing attention span, either.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which published the new study in its journal Pediatrics, recommends limiting children’s time in front of computers or TVs to 2 hours daily.
“One thing we have to bear in mind is that children playing video games for 2 to 3 hours a day is common. It’s displaced activities like watching TV,” Griffiths said. The small minority of kids probably do suffer from true video game addiction, just as some people are degenerate gamblers.
In general, Griffith recommends to parents that they try to get their kids to play educational games instead of violent ones. Playing in groups is also advisable as it promotes socializing instead of isolation. It is also recommended that they sit at least two feet from the screen and not playing when feeling tired.
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