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Is Your Child Addicted to Video Games?

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Updated: 11/30/2012 11:10 pm

April 21, 2009 -- Some children and teens who play video games may be as hooked on gaming as gamblers are to cards and slot machines. And what the youths see as an enjoyable hobby can negatively affect school work and social interactions, a new study says.

Researchers say they found in a national Harris Poll survey that 8.5% of youths 8 to 18 who play video games show collective signs of addiction that psychologists know exist in pathological gamblers, says Douglas Gentile, PhD, an assistant professor at Iowa State University.

“I think it’s analogous to gambling addiction, but not to the same exact form -- some play horses, others poker, others the slots,” he tells WebMD. “They’re all the same underlying type of problem, even though they look different if we just look at the mode of play.”

Video addicts among the 1,178 youths surveyed played much more often than casual gamers, made worse grades, fired up their computers to escape from reality, had more trouble paying attention in school, got in more fights, and were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorders, Gentile says.

He says the study, which used an online questionnaire, is the first to document video game addiction among young people using a nationally representative sample.

Researchers used an 11-item scale based on accepted guidelines for pathological gambling, outlined in the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as DSM-IV.

Gamers were classified as pathological if they exhibited at least six of the symptoms.

The findings are published in the May edition of Psychological Science.

“What is clear is that games can have many effects that the game-makers probably didn’t anticipate,” says Gentile, who is also director of research for the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family. He says he suspects many adults who constantly check email are similarly addicted. Pathological game use can affect “multiple aspects of your life,” he tells WebMD.

The most commonly reported symptoms of pathological game use included skipping chores to play video games, playing to escape problems or bad feelings, spending more time thinking about or planning playing, skipping homework to play video games, getting a poor grade because of playing video games.

He says it’s still not known which youngsters are most at risk.

Signs of addiction include indications that kids need to play and feel pulled toward computers, a decline in interest in school work or a drop in grades, increased boredom when engaging in other activities, a tendency to skip household chores, and adeptness at coming up with excuses to avoid doing homework.

The study also found that:

  • Boys play games more often than girls and play longer.
  • Youngsters play video games less often as they grow older, but increase playing times per session.
  • Boys showed more symptoms than girls.

“The present study was designed to demonstrate whether pathological gaming is an issue that merits further attention,” Gentile writes. “With almost one out of 10 youth gamers demonstrating real-world problems because of their gaming, we conclude that it is.”

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