Gone are the days when your kid gets home from school and plays in the street until dusk with neighbors. Seeing a child spend dozens of hours per week gaming or watching Youtube videos of others gaming (yes, really!) is the new norm.
Question: But when does gaming become a clinical concern?
Answer: When it serves as avoidant behavior. Let me explain.
Maybe your child has social anxiety, low self-esteem, has been a victim of bullying and is using gaming to meet their social needs. In this scenario, their socialization is between other online players (not same-aged friends who have ransacked your refrigerator before) and usually scattered all over the country. Although your child may consider these people their good friends, their relationship is almost always superficial and hinders social confidence at school and in the community. There is a big difference between a rejection in the sandbox and pop-up box.
For your child, having safe online relationships where the burn of rebuff stings less, is better than no friends at all. Trust me! Stopping this relational pattern is tough. First, when they play video games so much they typically become good at them and feeling a sense of mastery is good for the self-esteem. Also, gaming becomes a community and part of their identity, which is especially important starting in middle school.
Just like any craft or skill, when your child does not practice how to engage with a group of teammates or how to handle feelings of sadness relating to being left out, they start losing their social skills —the old use them or lose them—and retreat. Your child starts losing confidence in their ability to socialize in person where they find richer, real life connections which will fuel their social, emotional, and intellectual development. Your child might learn to become satisfied with only online friends and stop pursuing friendships in school or the community.
Often, when gaming friends and time consumes their world, symptoms of depression and anxiety set in, which leads to other problematic behaviors affecting their school and home life.