Gaming addiction is now recognised as a disorder by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and has therefore garnered plenty of attention recently. But what is gaming addiction, who can it affect and what signs do you need to look for in your own children?
And what can you do if you do suspect one of your family members exhibits an unhealthy obsession with videogames?
Andy Robertson is well placed to give some answers to those questions and more. As founder of YouTube channel FamilyGamerTV and author of forthcoming book on the subject, Taming Gaming: Guide your Child to Video Game Health, he is an expert in the field of playing games responsibly with your young ones.
He also happens to be a dyed-in-the-wool Pocket-lint contributor too, so we asked him to provide his thoughts and suggestions on the hot topic of unhealthy gaming habits and what you can do about them…
Why is gaming addiction in the news?
"Many reports on gaming addiction create for-or-against camps, but without the sort of detailed discussion and advice that can help parents and children with practical advice.
"It's not as simple as reading the age rating and 'just saying no'. Equally, it does require some time and attention from parents to move children towards more healthy game time.
"A lot of the arguments have centred around the WHO Gaming Disorder classification. However, it's important to note that this could still be changed before it is presented in its final form in May 2019. In the meantime it is being field tested by Member States. Although it, like the rest of the ICD-11 scheme it's referenced in, hasn't been accepted by the NHS. It is being field tested between now and 1 June 2019.
"Although contentious, the debate is generating useful conversation and awareness of what videogames offer children. Whether or not games are addictive, we need to consider the important place they hold in children's lives and how parents and guardians need to guide them towards a healthy relationship."
Unhealthy gaming habits to look out for and parental tips
"Having worked with many families over the years, most recently researching my book, I have established some important aspects of a child's gaming habits to keep an eye on. Each of these can usually be resolved by parental action, particularly if undertaken from a younger age. They are generally broken down into five categories.
"However, it's also important to say that in the very rare cases where a child falls into the most extreme end of the following categories, getting advice and professional guidance is essential."
1. Are children in control?
"Impaired control over the duration and termination of gaming sessions is the first of the WHO guidelines. This goes beyond the frustration that many parents express of their child not willing to stop when it's time for dinner. More than needing to finish the current level, it's when children aren't willing to stop at all without some physical intervention that there is cause for concern.
"Parents can help children learn how to stop playing, by enjoying games together. Helping your child notice how they feel if they've played too long, or when they are angry at having to stop, is also useful. Building patterns of healthy play with them from a young age will stay with them into teenage years."
2. Are videogames eclipsing normal life?
"Games taking precedence over other areas of life is the second of the WHO guidelines for unhealthy gaming. This is more than wanting to talk about gaming all the time, or wanting to play for longer. It's only when a child's game playing stops them eating properly, going to school or looking after personal hygiene that alarm bells should trigger.
"Parents can help children by introducing a wider range of gaming experiences. Rather than just playing the same game over and over, shifting between titles naturally introduces breaks and can involve other members of the family. Similar to diet, we don't worry about plate-time but what's on the plate. With gaming it's important for parents to understand what's occuring on the screens of their children."
3. Gaming despite the cost?
"Playing more despite negative consequences is another important aspect of the WHO criteria. In my experience, when parents and children notice unhealthy gaming behaviour, they are keen to find ways of improving the situation. It's only if a child continues to return to unhealthy gaming in spite of negative consequences that they would fall into the proposed diagnosis.
"Parents can help children by playing games together as a family. This not only models how and when to stop playing, but values the hobby as a significant part of family life. Rather than feeling defensive about gaming, the child can articulate what it is they like about it and take steps to keep this experience positive."
4. Letting them get on with it
"This sign isn't part of the WHO suggestion but is an excellent way of measuring how healthy a child's gaming is. Where parents have stepped away and let the child choose what and how long they play, it's more likely that unhealthy habits can develop. If you can't name the games your child plays, and articulate what they like about them individually, this may be a sign that you are not as engaged in this area as other parts of their life.
"Parents can ensure they remain part of their child's gaming world by playing an active role in choosing which games are purchased using the PEGI ratings and excellent Consumer Information provided by the Video Standards Council. This isn't just saying no, but finding great gaming alternatives to older rated titles when they are younger."
5. Unused parental controls
"The final sign of unhealthy gaming is when a child is left to setup a console or gaming computer on their own. Parental controls create an excellent context for positive conversations that lead children to setting their own limits. Where these are not being used, parents are missing an opportunity to take advantage of these powerful features.
"Parents can benefit from these settings, available on each of the main game consoles, through a variety of guides (like the excellent advice on AskAboutGames.com). They are a simple way to limit how long a child can play. But more than this, these settings can enable parents to guide children towards more appropriate content and patterns of play, as well as protect them from inadvertently playing games that are too old for them."
Get to know your children and their gaming habits
"Parents know their children better than anyone and are perfectly placed to ensure gaming becomes a healthy and enjoyable part of family life. Like other areas, though, this doesn't happen without them playing a crucial role in guiding and educating their children about how to game healthily. With good advice, applied from a young age, video games can offer children all manner of benefits.
"While setting limits and screen-time measures can be a good first step to get some breathing space, it's important we move beyond this to create nurturing and engaged conversations with children about the games they play.
"My family isn't without its arguments over Fortnite, or explosions over Roblox losses, but I'm deeply grateful for the character traits and qualities I've seen games grant my children - curiosity, compassion, resilience, confidence, problem solving and patience to name a few."
"My hope is that with understanding, more parents can get the support they need to make informed choices and discover that video games aren't the enemy."
You can pre-order Andy's book, Taming Gaming, and find out much more about sharing games playing experiences with your children at Unbound.com.