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Kids & Tech

How To Know If Your Child Is Addicted To Video Games

April 5, 2023
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    It is becoming increasingly common to start using technology at an early age. Not all screen time is bad for kids, and in fact, it can be productive. Playing video games is linked to various potential benefits, such as problem-solving, academic, motor, and other skills. However, as with many other things in life, too much time spent playing video games can lead to negative consequences. So, how do you know if your child's video gaming habits are a problem?

    In this article, we will discuss video game addiction, the signs and symptoms of gaming addiction, and whether kids can be addicted to video games. Then, we'll talk about how to manage your child's video game playing and getting help.

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    What Is Video Game Addiction?

    Video game addiction is recognized in the international classification of diseases (ICD) as gaming disorder. Gaming disorder is defined by patterns of gaming behavior (including online gaming or other modes of digital gameplay) characterized by impaired control over gaming behavior, prioritizing gaming over other activities and responsibilities, and escalation or continuation of gaming despite negative consequences. Sometimes, gaming disorder is also called gaming addiction.

    Signs and symptoms

    Knowing the signs and symptoms of video game addiction can help you identify it in yourself or someone you know. Here are signs of problematic gaming to look out for in your child:

    • Spending an excessive amount of time playing video games
    • Inability to stop playing games or reduce game time, even if one wants to
    • Emotional withdrawal symptoms when one is unable to play video games (may show up as anger, irritability, intense sadness, or otherwise severe emotional distress)
    • Continuing to play games at a high frequency despite problems in social relationships (e.g., spending less time with friends in real life due to gaming)
    • Continuing to play games at a high frequency despite physical symptoms (e.g., eye strain, back pain) or new or worsening mental health concerns
    • Loss of interest in activities one used to enjoy due to a fixation on playing games
    • Gaming interferes with sleep or leads to sleep deprivation
    • Lying to others about time spent on video games

    Concerned parents may notice a decline in academic performance and the ability to tend to other important responsibilities. In extreme cases, personal hygiene and other areas of self-care may decline, with more time spent playing video games.

    Can A Child Be Addicted To Video Games?

    Gaming addiction can affect people of all ages, including children. In fact, video game addiction appears to be rather prevalent among kids and teens, according to recent statistics. Some children may be at an increased risk for pathological video game use than others. For example, research shows that people with ADHD are more likely to experience screen addiction, including gaming disorders. With that said, it's possible to manage your child's gaming habits, and if your child has a video game addiction, there is help.

    Managing Your Child's Gaming

    There are ways parents can reduce the risk of or address kids addiction to video games, one of which is to help manage their child's gaming. Use the following tips to help manage your child's gaming and help them find a happier balance. 

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    Limit time playing video games

    Build a schedule for your child and factor in when they're allowed to play video games vs. when they are not. Limits might include but aren't restricted to:

    • No video games or technology before bed. The AACAP's screen time guidelines recommend that kids and teens stop using all electronics 30-60 minutes before bed. Following this rule can help reduce overall screen time and avoid the negative effects of screens on sleep.
    • Certain amounts of screen time per day at specific times. Some parents find that kids with ADHD benefit from shorter, more frequent chunks of permitted screen time use, but others find that another system (e.g., gaming is permitted at a certain time on school days and weekends) works best, especially for kids who fixate on games.
    • No screens during specific activities. For example, no screens during family meals or outings.

    Different limits will work for different families and kids. This can pair with making sure that kids have other structured activities. While it may not address game time specifically, many parents choose to limit access to certain games (e.g., violent games), too, as such games may not be appropriate for kids of certain ages.

    Use parental controls

    Parental controls can be a game-changer in reducing gaming time for kids. Many children with gaming addiction find it difficult to follow their parents' restrictions and will attempt to play or sneak game time anyway. Using parental control apps or settings on relevant devices lets you restrict a child's ability to play games; some will turn the game off or freeze it at certain times, for example. If you aren't sure how to use a specific app or device to limit video game play, contact the company, and they should be able to walk you through it.

    Involve kids in other hobbies

    Making sure that kids have other structured activities can be vital, especially if kids currently have unlimited video gaming time or a lot of unstructured time per day to play video games. Screen-free time can feel boring without another obligation or hobby in place, and they might not know what else to do. Fun activities like art, playdates, sports, outdoor activities, music classes, or something else your child enjoys may be helpful. Plan these in advance and during times you do not want kids to play games.

    Give children structure

    We talked a little bit about structured activities and creating a routine* for your child and how it can help with pathological video game use. A full daily routine with set amounts of chore time, homework time, free time, and other activities (e.g., extracurriculars, family time, or reading time) can help you remain mindful of how much time your child spends in the gaming world and limit video gaming.

    Make family time a priority

    Screen-free family time is vital. Plan for family nights where you play board games or engage in another activity together. It can also be beneficial to plan regular time when you complete activities with your child, like cooking, going to the library, or riding bikes together.

    Some activities may be more suitable for different family structures, but bonding always matters. Activities like cooking or baking, going to a museum, and playing non-electronic games (e.g., board or card games) can double as learning opportunities.

    Setting a "no technology" rule for the whole family can be helpful during family time, especially if kids gravitate toward handheld devices other family members have for video gaming. That way, kids don't feel singled out. This is also a good opportunity to set a good example for kids.

    Get help

    Professional help for internet gaming disorder is ideal for children who continue to experience pathological video game use despite intervention from parents. Look for a mental health professional such as a therapist, counselor, or psychologist who works with internet gaming disorder and your child's age group.

    Can Video Game Addiction Be Treated?

    Video game addiction can be treated successfully with talk therapy. Currently, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) appears to be one of the most commonly used and researched types of therapy for gaming addiction. Psychologists, therapists, counselors, and social workers who work with gaming addiction in kids may address both video gaming and other potential underlying concerns when relevant. These may include a co-occurring mental health condition (conditions that occur alongside ADHD) like depression or anxiety, school problems, or something else. CBT is often short-term and can be advantageous in helping kids self-regulate and find appropriate coping skills. To find a provider who works with video game addiction in kids near you, you can ask another provider, like your child's pediatrician, for a recommendation, use an online search engine like Psychology Today, or call your health insurance company.


    Although video games have benefits for kids, they can be a double-edged sword. Long hours spent playing video games (including online games and any other electronic games) can increase the risk of physical health problems, psychiatric disorders, and other concerns. There are ways parents can help pathological gamers, such as limiting video game playing, using parental controls, organizing other activities, and seeking professional help. Studies suggest that forms of therapy like CBT can be helpful for video game addiction, and it may also help a child with co-occurring problems when relevant. Apps like Joon can also help children balance online and offline activities, reducing the effects of too much time spent on games.

    *For more articles on creating routines for kids with ADHD, go to the Joon parenting resource hub.


    Dr. Brittany Ferri, PhD

    Brittany is a registered and licensed occupational therapist who holds a PhD in Integrative Mental Health. She is the owner of a writing and consulting company called Simplicity of Health. She has direct experience in program development, behavioral health, pediatrics, and telehealth. She has published five books, lectured at 20+ OT/OTA programs, and has been quoted as a health expert by NBC News, WebMD, CNN, and other outlets.


    Dr. Brittany Ferri, PhD

    Brittany is a registered and licensed occupational therapist who holds a PhD in Integrative Mental Health. She is the owner of a writing and consulting company called Simplicity of Health. She has direct experience in program development, behavioral health, pediatrics, and telehealth. She has published five books, lectured at 20+ OT/OTA programs, and has been quoted as a health expert by NBC News, WebMD, CNN, and other outlets.