Internet Gaming Disorder: The Damaging Effects of Screen Addictions

Internet gaming disorder, as discussed here , is a new diagnosis for a problem that an increasing – and disturbing – number of adolescents and adults are experiencing. IGD, an acronym for internet gaming disorder, is defined as “a pattern of excessive and prolonged internet gaming that results in a cluster of cognitive and behavioral symptoms.”

We can’t deny that technology is huge part of our modern lives, yet we need to be cautious of spending more and more of our time gazing at screens, as there can be serious negative effects. IGD occurs in some cases when a person loses control over gaming.

Screen addictions have negative social consequences in two ways: the individual neglects their existing relationships and fails to form new ones, both because gaming requires all of their time and because it interferes with the development of effective social skills.

Research is conflicted as to whether playing violent video games increases violent behavior, but it is common for intense gamers to become agitated and aggressive when family members attempt to intervene. Those with IGD also suffer the effects of sleep deprivation, such as inability to concentrate, mood swings, and poor judgment.

Neuroimaging studies have been undertaken to look into how excessive internet gaming affects brain development, which is especially important for young gamers. Gray matter atrophy in the frontal lobe and reduced cortical thickness signal a decreased ability to plan, prioritize, and just generally get stuff done. The study also found damage to the insula, which is important for having healthy relationships with others.

The disparity between digital immigrants and digital natives can make communicating between generations difficult, as individuals in each group have unique perspectives. Recognizing the potential problems and coming up with a consistent strategy will help parents deal with their gamer children.

On that note, parents can take steps to prevent and deal with their children’s screen habits and ameliorate any addictive behavior. The following are some recommendations:

  • Develop home guidelines around the use of technology early in your child’s life, writing down what you and your child agree to;
  • Stipulate that homework is completed before computer/gaming time, in order to frame computer/gaming time as a reward instead of a right;
  • Parents must have password (with no one else given access to passwords, even friends);
  • All electronics must be “turned in” to parents at night (to prevent late-night gaming);
  • Reinforce the idea that smart phones are a privilege, not a right; and
  • Require that the computer is used in public places such as the kitchen, where it can be monitored continuously.

Keep in mind that these recommendations will only work if they are enforced continuously. Furthermore, seek out opportunities for your child to be ‘unplugged’ with healthy activities such as sports, art, and outdoor recreation. Technology is here to stay, and it can definitely be a blessing. With careful monitoring, we can keep it from also becoming a curse.

Dr. Michelle Hintz, Psy.D.

At the Cadenza Center for Psychotherapy and the Arts, a dedicated roster of therapists, educational and behavioral consultants treat the developmental, emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral needs of both adults and children. Founded in 2001 by Michelle Hintz, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and board-certified music therapist, the Cadenza Center provides general services including individual and family therapy incorporating active treatment strategies such as sensory integration, DIR/Floortime, and social pragmatics.