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Talk about gaming in the family

When gaming becomes a problem

Gaming can be a source of worry in many homes and it is not always easy to know how much is normal when it comes to gaming, let alone when it is time to take action. Here, we will provide you with a few tips about warning signs, what you can do and where you can find help.

Spending lots of time gaming do not necessarily translate to gaming problems

Many young people play a lot, but it is rare for gaming to develop into a serious problem. You should differentiate between large amounts of gaming and gaming problems. Gaming time alone is not enough to determine whether gaming is a problem.

People who do large amounts of gaming are defined as gamers who play for four or more hours every day without this necessarily having an impact on their health or quality of life. These are people who are passionate about gaming without their hobby having any negative impact on their lives. The biggest challenge for parents of people who do large amounts of gaming might be to not get annoyed about the time they spend doing it. Discuss gaming during peaceful times and show that you recognise their gaming as a hobby. Take an interest in what your child considers to be fun and what they consider challenges in the games and allow them to talk about their experiences. Keep track to ensure that their lives are otherwise balanced (school, sleep, diet, friends, etc.).

Someone with a gaming problem will be characterised by a sense of compulsion and gaming will pose an obstacle to school, family, their career and social life. It can be difficult to identify whether the actual gaming is a problem or whether the gaming allows them to escape something else they find difficult in their lives. Social withdrawal through gaming can be an indication that something is wrong and you should consider seeking professional help. Some people with gaming problems will spend a lot of time gaming, whilst others will spend less time. Time spent gaming is therefore not a symptom or a measure of gaming problems in itself.

Warning signs and advice

The earlier parents get involved with their children’s gaming habits, the easier it will be to avoid problems but also to identify warning signs. Some people use games to escape from reality and others are passionate about gaming as a hobby. In other words, there is no blueprint.

You and your family need to decide how you want to spend your time and what you consider acceptable. Different children have different needs and interests, but all children need boundaries and limits. Setting boundaries will also help if any conflicts arise. It is therefore a good idea to start talking to your children about gaming from an early age and to agree on how much time they can spend gaming and what sort of games they are allowed to play.

Signs that your child might be experiencing gaming problems:

  • stops other activities
  • stops socialising with friends and family
  • skips school, skips homework, tests and exams
  • plays at night and sleeps during the day
  • tries to stop gaming or gradually decrease gaming time without success
  • argues with family about gaming
  • develops new, unhealthy eating habits or eats more or less than before

How to get help with a gaming problem

If you find that you or a family member have lost control of gaming, it is important to seek help from professionals. Losing control means that your gaming has resulted in multiple negative consequences in one or more areas of your life, for example social functioning and a lack of network, work, school, finances, psychological, emotional or physical.

We do have some advice if you would like to try to manage this without professional help. Create and follow a structure for your day. Structure your day so that the person experiencing difficulties needs to complete other activities first before they can play for a limited period of time at the end of the day. Make sure to maintain a fixed circadian rhythm by going to sleep and getting up at set times.

Having a fixed activity to do, such as school or work, can help reduce the time spent gaming. If you do not have school or a job to go to, you might find that it helps to do some volunteering in the local community.

However, one of the most important things you can do is to talk to someone. Many people find that it helps to have someone who has been in a similar situation to talk to. Gaming Addiction Norway holds members’ meetings for gaming addicts and their relatives in most large cities. You can find an overview of available Norwegian support groups at spilleavhengighet.no.

If it relates to a child attending school, the public health nurse (helsesykepleier) may be a good person to talk to – an adult who is not a parent. This can be a good place to start if the general practitioner is not a good option. You can also contact the clinic for child and adolescent psychiatry or the family counselling office.

For people over the age of 18, treatment facilities will be available at various locations throughout the country and you can find a list at hjelpelinjen.no.

Gaming Disorder as a diagnosis

In May 2019, the World Health Organization decided that Gaming Disorder would be recognised as an official diagnosis from 2022. It will take some time before this diagnosis is recognised and implemented in Norway, so the diagnosis will not be used here yet. Nevertheless, we want to provide some information about what the diagnosis entails.

This diagnosis is not about what, how much or how often you play. Psychologists often refer to this as a functional diagnosis, which means that you are unable to lead a normal life and play instead. You are unable to eat properly, experience poor sleep and have stopped going to school or work.

It takes a lot to get such a diagnosis. You need to struggle with normal activities such as sleeping, eating, school/work, social life, family life or exercise for more than a year. The time period can be shorter if you experience problems in more than one of these areas over a period of time. Most parents worry and contact the support system before it goes that far.

One turning point might arise if the gamer has a desire to live a normal life. The gamer will need to have missed important aspects of life, an exam, important events that were not attended, sleeping through lectures due to having played all night, reaching a point where something needs to happen.

The person with problems will often feel as though life is a fight against the world. The world wants you to play less or stop playing completely. The world does not understand the joys of gaming. A gaming addict cannot play less or stop playing without feeling emotionally crushed. This is something that requires practice over time and help from others who recognise the emotional pain associated with less gaming time. Boundaries must be set in kind and compassionate way, because gaming is so fun that it hurts not to be able to play as much as you want.

For some, gaming might be a way of dealing with other issues. Staying home from school might have a number of causes and gaming might be the one thing you do when you stay home. Gaming as a result of staying home from school or staying home from school in order to play can have completely different causes. But parents notice gaming and assume that this is the main issue. What other factors make you stay home gaming instead of doing what you are supposed to be doing?

Screen time and gaming should be limited based on how vulnerable the child is. If a child has been diagnosed with ADHD or dyslexia or if the child has few friends or similar, these can all be factors that mean that the child requires clearer boundaries. If the child attends school, does their homework, participates in other activities and has plenty of friends, they can pretty much play as much as they want to. Regardless of how much you dislike computer games as a parent, this should have no impact on boundaries, the crucial factor is how vulnerable the child is.

How painful is it for a child to stop playing? Screen time limitations may become necessary if you increasingly have to remind the child that it is bedtime. Such situations can be avoided by talking to the child about gaming during peaceful times. Talk about how gaming fits in with family life, what is good and what is challenging. Reach an agreement together without any threats of banning game time.

The new diagnosis is not something most parents need to worry about, but thankfully there is help for those who have realised that things have gone too far. One place to start is hjelpelinjen.no. You can start a live chat online or call them – as a gamer or as a relative. There are also regional lists of treatment facilities. If the gamer is under the age of 18, we recommend that you start by contacting your general practitioner, public health nurse at school or the local clinic for child and adolescent psychiatry.