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.

Internet Gaming Disorder: What is it?

Recent studies have shown that 8-18 year olds devote about 53 hours a week to screen time. Many psychologists, particularly child development experts, believe so much time in front of a computer screen is harmful. So, let’s review the facts. 

It used to be exciting just to chat using Skype or Facetime, and now almost any question can be answered with a few pulses on a screen that doesn’t even require real buttons. Technology is evolving at an ever-increasing rate, and accompanying the digital evolution are advantages and disadvantages.

Because it has advanced so quickly, there is a distinct generational difference in a person’s relationship to technology. Generation Xers are digital immigrants, born before its widespread adoption. Generation Y/Millenials, i.e. those born between 1980 and 1995, are digital natives, who’ve been interacting with digital technology since childhood.
sleep-cell-phone

The digital immigrant/digital native difference is important because digital natives are so comfortable that they are likely to ignore its potential negative effects.

And as time goes on, we are seeing children – and adults – spend more and more time looking at screens. In sync with these developments, a disorder known as Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) has come to be recognized by psychologists. IGD is defined as a pattern of excessive and prolonged internet gaming that results in a cluster of cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

Notably, IGD bears a troubling resemblance to the DSM-5 definition of substance addiction: “behavior that continues despite adverse consequences.”

An individual dealing with IGD will progressively lose control over gaming, devoting at least 30 hours a week to it, and might even lie to family members or therapists regarding the amount of time spent gaming. They might use internet games to escape or relieve a negative mood. In fact, they also might dream about it, become obsessed with it when at school or work (yes, adults can get addicted too!)

The table below illustrates some of the symptoms and consequences of IGD.

SIGNS and SYMPTOMS

CONSEQUENCES

  • Giving up previously preferred activities
  • Losing sleep
  • Neglecting hygiene
  • Increased arguments with parents
  • School failure
  • Job loss
  • Marriage failure
  • Students show declining grades    or eventual school failure
  • Family responsibilities neglected

 

Further, an individual with this disorder will often show tolerance and withdrawal symptoms analogous to substance abuse disorder. This leads them to continue gaming despite knowledge of growing problems in the non-virtual world. These problems might include bargaining and deal-making to extend time, threats when taken away, and sneaky and manipulative behavior in an effort to continue playing or engaging in the games/technology.

All in all, an internet or gaming addiction needs be taken addressed and taken seriously. For more information and some concrete steps to take, check my next post on specific psychological problems caused by IGD and how parents can work on preventing it.

What Graham Moore, Academy Award-Winning Writer, Got Right about Depression

One of the most compelling speeches at the Oscars this year was delivered by Graham Moore, winner of Best Adapted Screenplay for the film The Imitation Game. You may already have seen or read his words, which can be found here. In front of a worldwide audience of millions, he brought up the important issue of depression, which anywhere from 2%-8% of young people experience. He said:

In this brief time here, I want to say this: “When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I am standing here, and I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do.”

Bravo, Mr. Moore, for speaking for so many who suffer with depression and giving hope to a worldwide audience that it can get better.

Being a kid is hard. Mr. Moore’s experience is not unusual, but, as he points out, it doesn’t always feel that way. Certain combinations of genetics and temperament combined with environmental factors put children at risk for depression. For example, the risk increases 2-4 fold for girls after puberty. Many adolescents even have subclinical depression, meaning that while they would not be officially diagnosed, they still experience significant or persistent symptoms.

The disorder involves at least two weeks of persistent depressed/irritable mood and loss of interest, as well as a change in appetite and sleep, decreased energy and motivation, increased guilt feelings, decreased concentration, and suicidal thoughts. Children in particular may exhibit irritability and anger or tantrums as well as physical symptoms.

Depression can be deadly. For instance, Major Depressive Disorder has a high recurrence rate, and 60% of children who suffer from it experience suicidal thoughts. Many have attempted suicide.

One of the more astute reactions to Robin Williams’ death last summer came from those who did not share the news by saying he died of suicide. They said, rather, that he died of depression. This is not a spin doctor’s take; in fact, it is a far more truthful explanation.

What Mr. Moore and many of us who treat people with depression want is to bring this issue to light, and to be honest to each other about how prevalent depression is. Fortunately, there are also effective treatments.

First, however, we as parents or adults need to recognize the red flags and act on them. These include:

  • Sadness, agitation, restlessness, anger or severe mood changes; especially when they persist more than 6 months;
  • Weight loss or gain;
  • Fatigue and loss of energy;
  • Sleep problems;
  • Withdrawal and loss of interest;
  • Drop in grades and academic performance, and
  • Legal problems.

Talking to children about depression can be difficult and effective treatment often takes some time. However, it is of the utmost importance that we do so. One key step is letting go of any stigma attached to this problem and consciously choosing to help our children learn strategies to cope with depression. If we do so, we may be giving them the most important gift of all.

How Not To Divorce the Kids

  • Will I go to the same school?
  • Will I get to see my friends?
  • Who’s going to feed “Trixie” when I’m not here?

Divorce is messy. It is complicated and stressful and heartbreaking. None of this happened on Definitely, Maybe or Crazy, Stupid, Love, or any of the other Hollywood films in recent memory. But in addition to what adults have to contend with, there’s also the difficulty of finding a way to talk to your child about divorce and the changes to come. Most importantly, keep in mind that you’re not divorcing the kids.

Successful parenting during and after divorce and how to make transitioning between households as easy as possible are among the topics to be discussed at a free program on March 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cadenza Center, located on 450 N. Park Road, Suite 400, Hollywood, Florida 33021. Parking is easy and free. 

Since the initial discussion may be one of the most difficult moments in the process, let’s review some scenarios for discussions with your children. First of all, make sure to have a strategy in mind. During the planning period, you’ll need to figure out logistics before involving the kids. Then, share your plans at an appropriate developmental level.

While it is important to be honest, it’s even more critical to select an appropriate timeframe, as kids don’t need to know six months beforehand. If they’re ten, the kids don’t need a review of the college pre-paid plan. They need to know who’s driving them to baseball practice this weekend.

Ideally, the whole family should initially sit together after guidance from a trained therapist. Providing clear information the first time will smooth the process. Try to have an idea ahead of time of what the kids will want and need to know, and be prepared for many types of questions.

  • Who is moving?
  • What days will I be at mom’s house?
  • Are you going to be lonely when we’re with dad?

Everyone, parents and children, will be experiencing a new lifestyle and that type of transition can churn up emotions and instability. Be aware of how your child expresses stress; some kids are likely to become extra clingy, whiney, or irritable. How will you manage that?

Likewise, as a parent you will have to let go of an unrealistic expectation that you will know everything going on with your kids at every moment. Setting up a contact schedule, such as nightly phone calls, might be helpful although the calls will likely last only a few minutes.

But make sure you’re not putting the onus on the kids to call and report. It’s critical not to add pressure or stress, and to keep things somewhat flexible. Rigid call times are not realistic but you can set a consistent timeframe, like just before bedtime.

An agreed-upon calendar will help minimize the anxiety from timesharing; it is helpful to post it in the homes of both parents. Kids, especially those that plan and dislike instability (which is most kids), want to know where they will be and who they can rely on. A child-sharing calendar will allow them to envision their own schedule and plan some projects accordingly. As many have learned, some school projects don’t travel well. Planning ahead is critical for all, but especially the children, who are likely the least able to express the insecurity.

  • Will I get to see my friends?
  • Who is “Trixie” going to live with?
  • Can I take my bed?

The flow of belongings and storage has been dramatically altered, and it might take a while for all concerned to get organized again. It’s imperative to detach from the “I need these items back” mindset but engage your kids when they are packing and help them plan ahead.

For example, if the kids have a habit of not bringing their favorite sneakers home, should they take them for a weekend visit? Or, if you need to make a tie-dye t-shirt for the school play, make sure all the supplies are ready in one place and there’s a plan or schedule to make it happen.

In getting accustomed to these changes, avoid control issues and work to manage or let go of your own anger and anxiety. It is crucial to maintain a healthy relationship with your children, and to model resilience and flexibility to your kids during the transition and afterward.

For more information and a chance to ask questions, join us at our program on March 25th at 6:30 p.m. at the Cadenza Center, located in the Regions Bank building, 450 N. Park Road, Suite 400, Hollywood, Florida 33021. The program and parking are free. Please let us know you’re coming by calling 954-925-3191.

And oh yeah, make sure the kids know you’ll feed their hamster if “Trixie” isn’t going along to visit the other parent.

Bullying: Taking the Power Back

A disappointing number of school-aged children experience bullying. Bullies use many different tactics, including verbal, social, and physical abuse. Neither you nor your child can control a bully’s actions, but you can find power in your own actions and responses.

Because of the negative short and long-term effects of bullying, it is crucial for parents to watch carefully for these signs, which may indicate that your child is experiencing this problem:

  • Unexplainable injuries;
  • Lost or destroyed personal items;
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness;
  • Changes in eating habits, sleeping, nightmares;
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school;
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations;
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem, and
  • Running away from home, or self-injurious behavior.

As a parent, you can be there for your child if you recognize these signs. One major action to take is figuring out ways to build your child’s confidence i.e. help them develop their sense of self. This means helping them learn about themselves and excel at being who they are.

Building self-confidence also requires supporting the effort not just the outcome. Parents can encourage their kids by making comments such as, “I like how you always try hard,” or “You’re good at helping others when they need it.”

Some other suggestions include joining a new club, exercising, or honing a skill. The resulting boost in self-esteem will help the affected child ignore the mean kids.

Further, spending at least 15 minutes a day talking to your child will help them feel that they can approach you with problems. It is also very important to broach the topic of bullying with your child. Here are some questions I use to start the dialogue:

            “What was one good thing that happened today? Any bad things?”

            “What is lunchtime like at school? Who do you sit with? What do you talk about?”

            “What is it like to ride the school bus?”

Talking to your child also gives you a chance to practice strategies with them such as how to react to bullies. An aggressive response is always a bad idea. Instead, we should try to deny the bully the response they seek. Two ways to do this are by ignoring them and by using humor. After a few encounters, the bully may become bored and go away.

In my practice, I teach children to think logically about what the bully says to recognize that it isn’t a ‘fact’…I also teach them to say, ‘So?’ to all the comments made by the bully.

Psychologists use role playing in the office, and parents can too. For instance, I might have one parent model answering, ‘So?’ to every statement the child makes. Soon, they are likely to be laughing, as the person playing the bully struggles to come up with more insults. Then, I suggest that the parent and the child switch places.

Being bullied is a relentless, ongoing, horrible experience. It must be addressed as soon as possible. We can start with making sure our children feel safe talking to us or to someone else who can provide the support they need. Finding true friends can help ease feelings of hurt and isolation until everyone can keep growing, rising above to where the bullies can no longer reach.

Bullying: Understanding the Situation

Every day our children walk away from us and venture out into the world. Whether they get on a bus, step out of a car, or walk to school, it’s impossible to know exactly what will happen. Unfortunately, studies show that 28-35% of school-aged children will experience bullying, an alarming figure for any parent.

Bullying can have an enormous impact on your child in the future, and so it is imperative to be aware of what bullying is and what we can do about it. First, let’s differentiate between bullying and normal peer conflict. Conflict is an inevitable part of childhood, and not all conflict is harmful or bad. Constructive conflict occurs accidentally and both parties feel bad afterwards. It is distinct from destructive bullying.

Constructive conflict helps children to learn, grow, and change for the better. They become more open-minded and tolerant, and they learn to see things from other perspectives. We cannot, and should not, hide our children from this.

Another difference is that normal conflict usually resolves itself rather quickly. Between kindergartners and 2nd grade, students who have squabbles during morning recess are likely again BFF by the following day.

How to Identify Bullying Behavior

Elementary school students are likely to label everything that happens to them which they don’t like as ‘bullying.’ At this age, they might interpret bullying as kids not playing with them, others not sharing, or simple name calling when frustrated (such as one kid telling another, “You’re annoying!”)

Bullying, on the other hand, is highly destructive. It is an abuse of power intended to hurt or humiliate another person. Destructive conflict damages relationships, creates bad feelings, and leads to future problems.

A bully will exploit a real or perceived power imbalance to carry out their unwanted, aggressive behavior. They then take advantage of the damage they’ve caused to do it again and again and again, until their victim is completely terrorized. They also manipulate others to broaden the influence of their attack by swaying the victim’s friends and causing alienation.

Bullies may use one or more of many different methods. A few examples are inappropriate comments, serious threats, isolation from the peer group, spreading rumors, hitting or pushing, and breaking possessions, among others. These can be categorized, but the point is that a bully will exploit any opportunity to hurt their victim.

The mental and physical stress for the bullied child – or adult – is inescapable.
If you are concerned that your child is being bullied, it is important to address the problem right away. This must be done carefully so as to create an environment where our children feel comfortable talking about their problems. In a follow-up column, I’ll review the possible warning signs and how parents can help their children deal with verbal abuse.