With the prevalence of mobile devices and the ability to be connected nearly anytime anywhere, children and teens are spending more and more time online and playing video games whether at home or on the go. Subsequently, it is important to be aware of the signs of addictive, problematic or compulsive behaviors towards both internet use and video games. Excessive or compulsive use of these media can be detrimental to a child’s physical, emotional and mental health.
How can media use lead to media addiction in children?
Today, research has shown that problematic, excessive and compulsive use of the internet and video games may lead to academic struggle, poor family relationships, impaired social functioning, and emotional and psychiatric problems. The link between addiction and media is largely due to the following:
- Mobile devices offer many children and teens the ability to connect with others socially virtually anytime and anywhere. This freedom can become problematic when youth prioritize social connectivity through these devices above other important activities such as school, sleep, family time and other in-person social activities.
- Studies have shown that children who overly game or use the internet exhibit similar behaviors to those suffering from other addictions such as substance dependence. Children prone to media addiction will exhibit the same “highs” and “lows” as substance users, and their addictions can lead to other negative health consequences such as depression, ADHD, daytime sleepiness, alcohol use and injury.
- Video games and online games, including Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGS) often encourage users to play for long periods of time. These games typically require a users’ full concentration and reward players for ‘good’ game play with incremental prizes, pleasing aural and visual stimuli, and (when the games are played socially) the attention and approval from peers/fellow gamers.
- Children and teens who have social anxieties, physical disabilities and/or are dissatisfied with their outward appearance may turn to video and other online games to compensate for their perceived deficiencies as these games can offer them a sense of mastery within a controlled environment.
- During adolescence, children place a great deal of importance on peer relationships. While cell phones grant teens the mobile ability to connect with peers, many fear that if they do not respond instantly to texts, posts and other social media, they may lose their sense of belonging and social connectedness. This compulsive like behavior can lead to problematic or excessive cell phone use where youth prioritize their mobile communication above other activities including their health and safety. Behaviors such as texting while driving, and answering late night messages that compromise sleep are often due to excessive cell phone use.
What YOU Can Do
Although many children and adolescents use the internet, mobile devices and video games, making sure that youth are participating in these activities as part of a balanced diet of experiences can help ensure that they do not develop problematic, excessive or compulsive behaviors around media use. Here are several suggestions to help you guide your child’s media use:
Do you know a teen who wants to learn more about time management?
Visit the Center for Young Women’s Health at Boston Children’s Hospital.