Video Game Addiction Puts Children at Risk

A new study released in Pediatrics reports that one in ten children who play video games are at risk for becoming addicted. This gaming addiction is associated with an increased risk of lower school performance, anxiety, and social phobias.

Investigators are trying to determine whether excessive gaming leads to depression, poor grades, and antisocial behaviour or if socially awkward and depressed children cope by playing games. Researchers questioned over 3,000 children Singaporean children in grades 3, 4, 7, and 8 over a period of two years.

Questionnaires were geared towards understanding a child’s gaming habits, social interactions, decision-making skills, and psychiatric status. Investigators coupled this information with school performance to generate their results.

Kids who averaged 31 hours or more of game play per week were categorized as obsessed or addicted to video games. Children averaged between 20.5 and 22.5 hours of video gaming per week. Nine percent of the children studied were considered addicted to gaming. The percentage of young children addicted to \games in Singapore is very similar to other parts of the world, including the United States (8.5 percent), China (10.3 percent), Australia (8.0 percent), Germany (11.9 percent), and Taiwan (7.5 percent).

In this study, investigators founds that 84% of children who were addicts at the start of the study were still addicts at the study’s conclusion. On the other hand, only 1% of children who were not addicted at the start of the study became addicts by year 2. Sixteen percent of children who were not obsessed with games at the start of the study became addicted within 2 years. Impulsivity, depression, and social phobias appeared to worsen as children became more addicted to video games.

However, when the children stopped playing video games, depression significantly improved. Moreover, once children became addicted, they began playing more violent games. As violent game play increased, aggressive fantasies and behaviours increased. Conversely, children who stopped being obsessed gamers noted a decrease in violent game exposure, aggressive fantasies and behaviours.

While this study suggests that excessive gaming causes depression and other problems in children, more work is needed. Doctors and scientists need to determine what steps are necessary to prevent gaming addiction, depression and anxiety in children and what measures are most effective at helping children who have become addicted and are suffering mentally and socially.