For most young people, playing games on a computer (or video game console or handheld device), checking email, social networking, and texting are just a regular part of the day. Most are able to juggle the multiple demands of school, sports, work or chores, lessons, and family life.
Video games are fun and exciting, and they can, occasionally, be educational. Gaming can improve eye-hand coordination, and may foster positive social interactions. Young people with little athletic interest or ability have an opportunity to compete in a different way, and to form friendships with like-minded gamers. For some young people, computer and video games, streaming, social networking and other activities offer an opportunity for them to “reinvent” themselves, which can be very seductive.
Video games hold special attractions for young people with ADHD. A young person who’s bothered by distractibility in the real world may be capable of intense focus, or hyperfocus, while playing. Nor is hyperactivity a problem; a young person can hold the controllers and stand or pace back and forth in front of the TV as he plays.
For young people who struggle with social skills, or lack the skills to play team sports, these games entertain and level the playing field. Computer games are emotionally safe. When a young person strikes out in a baseball game, he’s doing it in front of a crowd of peers. But when he makes a mistake while playing a video game, no one else has to know.
Video-game errors aren’t circled in red ink by teachers, either. In fact, making mistakes helps the player improve. By trial and error, he learns the specific action needed to advance the next time. There is satisfaction in steadily improving and, ultimately, winning, with no chance of failing or being teased.
These activities become problematic when they begin to interfere with the young person’s life – relationships, good grades, sports, or even sleep. Recent surveys show that children spend an average of 49 minutes a day on these games. If a young person’s video-game console is in the bedroom, play time increases dramatically, to nearly three hours. Of course, for hand-held devices and phones, the young person often has access to the device all day long.
If a young person spends most non-school hours on the computer or hand-held device or phone, are falling behind with assignments, have worsening grades, are overtired, lying about frequency of use of electronic media, irritable when not using electronic media and choosing these activities over seeing friends, they likely have a problem and need help.
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