Does you child have a gaming addiction? Ten signs to watch out for and how to get help

Is your child suffering from gaming addiction?

Is your child suffering from gaming addiction? - Credit: Getty Images

So much focus is placed on addictions surrounding drink, drugs and gambling that it seems inconceivable to consider that our children may have dependency issues of their own.

Yet parents of youngsters as young as eight are finding themselves seeking help after their children have become addicted to video-gaming during lockdown.

When we spoke to St Albans hypnotherapist Andrew Pearson about the issue, he said he has experienced a sharp increase in parents bringing their young children to him for help with gaming addiction during lockdown.

"I would say that they have trebled. My youngest client is eight years old. I work with children and adults on a range of issues, including addiction, self-harm and anger issues. I use a combination of hypnotherapy and traditional talking therapy.

"The numbers of children being brought to see me with gaming disorder has risen steeply, along with social anxiety as children contemplate a return to normality."

He explained it was important to distinguish between a gaming disorder, or addiction, rather than your child simply spending more time online than you would like.

"Many parents are not fully familiar with gaming, just as a couple of generations ago parents had not experienced TV and were worried about children spending too much time in front of it.

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"For gaming to be truly problematic, like all addictions the litmus test is whether the person is driven to repeat their behaviour despite knowing that other areas of their life are suffering as a result. The gambling addict, for example, is only too aware of the fact that they are always short of money.

"Secondly, is the dependency on gaming an issue in itself? Or is it a symptom of underlying problems that were already there, for example loneliness and low self-esteem, and the gaming is being used as a coping strategy?"

He explained his approach to helping break the addiction: "I first work with the child to get a greater understanding of the underlying issues that are driving their issues with gaming and then bring about a change in behaviour and a switch to more positive pastimes. 

The UK’s first specialist clinic to treat children and young adults who are addicted to playing video games opened in 2019, a year after the World Health Organization recognised “gaming disorder” as a medical condition.

These are signs that your child may be developing an unhealthy habit with technology: 

1. Are other areas of the child’s life that may be suffering because of the amount of time taken by gaming? For example, family time, schoolwork, friendships and pastimes that involve physical activity, such as sports or cycling. 

2. Is there a low-tolerance threshold? Do they become angered easily when asked to do household chores or other things that take them away from gaming (including family mealtimes)?

3. Is there a fixation with gaming? For example, weekends away from home is the child asking if there will be good broadband available? At school their writing and art is always about gaming? Conversation is always steered towards gaming.

4. Have they become deceitful around gaming, for example under-reporting the amount of time they have spent gaming and suggesting they were doing homework research or other things?

5. Have they stopped seeing friends or dropped out of school clubs and other activities?

6. Are they more irritable and restless than usual? Irritability is common when people are living with addiction, often caused by fear of having to be apart from their vice.

7. Pains in the hands or wrists from too much playing with controls on devices.

8. Do they talk and act as if the world is virtual? Examples might be trying to swipe to turn a real page in a book or referring to people as 'the characters'.

9. Are they not wanting to pay attention to things like personal hygiene or getting dressed?

10. Are they underreporting or lying about how much time they've spent playing or playing in secret in the middle of the night?

Andrew also works with children on other issues like low self esteem, abuse, PTSD and self-harm. Find out more at