McNerney: Video Gaming Disorder? What Parents Can Do

By Neil McNerney, Parenting With Purpose

There has been quite a bit of talk about the World Health Organization identifying a new disorder they are calling Gaming Disorder. The news of this disorder has been getting a lot of exposure recently with various mental health providers giving their opinion on whether it is a separate disorder or whether it is part of other addictive disorders.

Let me start this column by stating that I am not a negative knee-jerk reactionary when it comes to video games. I have seen many socially isolated kids, especially those on the autism spectrum, benefit through the social aspect of gaming. Many of these kids might otherwise have been more ostracized and isolated if it wasn’t for the social aspect of video gaming. But I have also seen many others suffer because of the gaming industry.

Here is how the World Health Organization defines gaming disorder:

  • Gaming behavior takes precedence over other activities and previously enjoyable activities become much less interesting.
  • In the face of negative consequences, such as poor grades, social isolation, and punishments, the gaming behavior continues to be of utmost importance.
  • The gaming behavior must be causing significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.

In my private practice, I have seen many different levels of game involvement, from casual use for a half hour, to some children playing for more than 14 hours a day. Since the World Health Organization doesn’t yet define a number of hours a day in their definition, it’s hard to determine a specific amount that is too much.

Here are some other factors to consider when trying to determine if your child might be dealing with a video game disorder:

Withdrawal symptoms: Does your child get very cranky when you tell them to stop playing? Do they try to negotiate more and more time?

Obsessiveness: Do their interests revolve only around gaming? When not gaming, are they on YouTube watching videos of others gaming? Is this the only topic that they want to talk about?


What can parents do?

If you know your child is playing excessive video games, I would suggest a three-step approach. This approach is very similar to the parental leadership model I discuss in my book: “Homework – A Parent’s Guide to Helping Out Without Freaking Out!”

Supporter: Start with a conversation about gaming and let them know that you are aware of how important it is for them. Spend some time being curious, asking why they like playing, etc. Is it more the social aspect, or is it more the sense of accomplishment? This step is important because it lets them know you understand that they have good reasons for liking gaming.

Consultant: In this stage, begin to help them understand that, although it’s great that they have found something that they like, you, as a parent, are concerned about the amount of time they are spending on it at the expense of friends, family, school, etc. Ask them their opinion on this as well. If asked correctly, with genuine curiosity, you might be surprised at the answer. It is my experience that most kids who are over-gaming realize that they have a problem, but are worried that if they admit it, their parents will take it away completely.

       Boss:A boss, in my opinion, sets and enforces the rules, gives rewards, and doles out punishments. I would start, however, with seeing if you can come to an agreement about how much time should be spent on gaming. I have often been surprised to see kids come up with a number much less than the parents were considering.

       If negotiations don’t work, it is then time to institute your own limits. Most gaming systems have pretty good parental controls. If you have a child who knows how to bypass these controls, I have also recommended that parents lock up essential parts of the system during non-use hours. There are many small safes on the market with keypad locks that are the ideal size for game controllers, phones, iPads, cables, etc.

I am suggesting that you save the most extreme step for last. You might be surprised by the results of attempting to engage cooperation in this matter. But on the other hand, don’t be afraid to institute strong limits. The mental health and development of your child is worth it.

Neil McNerney

Neil McNerney is a licensed professional counselor and author of “Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!” and “The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s.”

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