Online Gaming -- Good Clean Fun? Or Unhealthy Addiction?Jennifer Martinez
Playing games is a natural part of growing up. It's one way kids learn to socialize and compete. Computer and online games, in most instances, are no more dangerous than other games kids play. But sometimes, computer-based games become more than just play. They become an addiction. And when they become an addiction, your child's psychological and physical well-being might be in jeopardy.
If you want more insight into your child's online gaming habits, try answering the following questions:
1. Is your child escaping too much?
Addiction to computer and online games is a real and growing problem. It affects both kids and adults. Often the most addictive games are the online multi-player games. They include role-playing, endless levels of achievement, and an IM or chat function. Groups of players play and chat online, creating a fantasy world that provides an escape from real life. Kids can get caught up in this fantasy world to the exclusion of their real life responsibilities.
2. Is your child only interested in online gaming?
Playing online or computer games is an innocent hobby that can become a pathological behavioral problem, in which playing games becomes more important than other aspects of life. Addicted kids spend hours on the computer to the exclusion of other activities. They lose interest in their school, fail to turn in homework assignments and their grades suffer. They turn their backs on their friends, preferring to stay at home on the computer with their "online friends." Much of their conversation may revolve around the games they're playing. They may be inordinately proud of their gaming successes. If you challenge them about the time they spend at the computer, they try to hide their gaming activity. Physical warning signs include sleeplessness, dry eyes and carpal tunnel injury.
3. Is your child losing interest in other activities?
According to a recent study conducted by Harris Interactive ("Video Game Addiction: Is It Real?" April, 2007) nearly one in 10 children between ages 8 and 18 are addicted to online gaming. There are many characteristics of these reported cases of addiction to online gaming: a teen becomes reclusive; school grades drop precipitously; a child drops out of high school to play games; kids play games 60 or more hours each week; and more. This isn't, by the way, a problem that's exclusive to kids. Adults get caught up in it, too: turning their backs on their families, losing jobs, threatening their financial well-being and losing spouses.
4. Is your child vulnerable to other dangers?
Online gaming addiction opens kids up to other dangers, too. Chatting online with other game players may expose them to online predators. Predators go where kids go online, and where better than a fantasy world that includes children?
5. Has your child's online gaming turned costly?
In some situations, gaming addiction can take a toll on your pocketbook. Many popular online games require that players buy the game and then pay monthly subscription fees. Tools, accessories and additional characters cost even more. It is possible to spend hundreds of dollars a month on monthly fees and add-ons. According to an article in Bay Area Parent, a 14-year-old boy used his mother's credit card to make a purchase online of gaming accessories, including "magical dragon armor and 100 pieces of virtual gold." His mother noticed unusual activity (amounting to $600) on her statement and quickly figured out what had happened.
6. Is your computer vulnerable, too?
Maintaining an open connection between your computer and a gaming web site or chat room, may lead to intrusion and possible theft of your identity and financial records stored on your home computer or network. It's always a good idea to have reliable Internet security software installed on your computer. This is even more important if your computer is used for online gaming.
7. Is there more you can do to monitor your child's computer usage?
Good parenting goes a long way toward preventing addiction to online gaming. Make sure you know which games are installed on the family computer. Check browser history logs to see where your child has been on the Internet. Engage your children in regular conversations about their lives. Have dinner together every day. If they spend more than an hour a day in front of the computer, ask them to show you their favorite sites. If their grades suffer or their friends stop calling, ask why.
If you detect a problem or a behavioral change in your child, address it immediately. If you detect gaming addiction, limit computer time and put the computer in a public area of your home. If the problem persists, perhaps you should seek professional psychological help. A gaming addiction is very similar to other addictions, such as drugs, alcohol or gambling. Helping a child deal with the addiction might require expertise from someone who is a trained professional.
Most kids who play online games are doing just that -- playing games. It's usually a healthy part of their life. On the other hand, if you discover that gaming is beginning to damage some aspect of your child's life, it's time to take action.
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