A study out this week, and reported on Page A9 of today’s Press Democrat, suggests that children can become addicted to playing video games, displaying such classic signs as skimping on homework, lying about how much they play games and struggling when they try to cut back.
The study, by an assistant professor at Iowa State University, was published online Monday and is based on a 2007 Harris Interactive poll of 1,179 U.S. youngsters, according to USA Today. As you might expect from someone who writes about video games and plays more than my share of them, I have a few issues with this study.
First, Douglas Gentile, the psychologist who conducted the study, didn’t have any guidelines for what behavior constituted an “addiction” to video games, so he adapted the diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling. Presumably, however, the gambling criteria are aimed at an adult population, while Gentile’s study was aimed at children aged 8 to 18. Some of the criteria include:
-Spending increasing amounts of time and money on video games to feel the same level of excitement.
-Irritability or restlessness when play is scaled back.
-Escaping problems through play.
-Skipping chores or homework to spend more time at the controller.
-Lying about the length of playing time.
-Excessive thinking about games or planning the next opportunity to play.
-Stealing games or money to play more.
Unsurprisingly, a few of these criteria apply to my own life. (No, not the stealing one.) Just yesterday I made arrangements to play “Left 4 Dead” with my friend Paul this afternoon, which is apparently some sort of pathological indicator. While I play “Left 4 Dead,” I might even blow off cleaning the cat box until after Paul heads off to bed on the East Coast. Egad, there’s two criteria already!
What troubles me about these criteria is that, not only can they apply to seemingly normal behavior, they can apply to most activities teens take part in. You could easily swap out “playing video games” for “watching TV,” “talking on the phone,” “texting” or “using Facebook” and you’d get the same answer. Does the fact that a kid feels a void in his life when video games are taken away mean that kid might have an addiction, or does it indicate that the child maybe could use some more face-time with his parents and friends, an after-school program or access to a teen center?
Our society is too quick to create new “addictions” that merely describe compulsive behavior borne of psychological voids or other stresses. I’ll be the first to admit that firing up a game and playing online with friends for an hour is a great way to escape the things that stress me out, apparently another pathological behavior, but I’m happy to get my daily dose of escapism to put my troubles out of my mind, knock off to bed and tackle things fresh in the morning. Chances are, if your child plays more than his share of games, it isn’t because he’s an addict who needs to be cured. Rather, he’s just a kid, who needs to learn some time management skills, along with strategies for confronting life’s problems head-on.