Thanks to Pokemon Go, video games have been thrust into the public sphere, literally. Putting Pokemon Go aside, how would you know your kid (or someone you care about) plays too many hours of video games?
If you are concerned about your child, perhaps he is a problem gamer. How would his life change in the next 6-12 months if he played less? How would his school work change? How would his health and habits change? Are you even aware of how much he is actually playing?
You might have had the thought once, perhaps after your child stayed up to 2:47 AM for the second night in a row; or you noticed him blinking his eyes dry after having played for 5 hours straight; or maybe he forgot to eat that day because he played through two meals. Some may say it’s part of the video game world and that it’s “normal”.
We need easy and measurable signs to see if video game use is getting out of hand. I struggled with these questions on my own video game usage and came up with 3 definitive and measurable signs that it might be time to back off from the video games.
3 Measurable Signs That It's Time To Back Off From Video Games
Sign #1: Your kid plays longer than he sleeps at least once in a month. Even if he sleeps 8 hours but plays for 9 hours, that’s a lot. If he plays 7 hours and sleeps 6 hours, then his game is interfering with his sleep.
Sign #2: Your kid plays over 14 hours a week, fitting the definition of a “heavy gamer”. I found no clear definition for a “heavy gamer” so I looked at the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control) guidelines for “heavy drinking”. Yes, it may sound harsh to compare gaming to drinking, but it’s a useful comparison, at least to get a clear definition. According to the CDC1 (the CDC rounds up to 15), if a male drinks over 14 standard drinks a week, than he is a heavy drinker.
Replace the term “standard drink” with “standard hour” and now we have an easy definition of a heavy gamer. If your kid plays over 14 hours a week (over 2 hours a day), you may want to hit pause and reflect for a moment because he now fits the definition of a heavy gamer. You are looking at nearly a half-time job’s worth of time devoted to playing.
Sign #3: Your kid plays over 4 hours straight, without a 2 hour continuous break in between, fitting the definition of a “Binge Gamer”. If you scroll up on the CDC’s website from “heavy drinking”, you’ll find a definition of “binge drinking” that I liken to “binge gaming”. A male binge drinker consumes over 4 drinks within a 2-hour period (CDC rounds up to 5, which should more accurately be written as ‘over 4 drinks’). If we replace “standard drink” with “standard hour”, we get a similar definition for binge gaming.
If a child plays for more than 4 hours without at least a 2-hour continuous break in between to ‘detox’ (like a drinker needs time to detox his liver), he fits the definition of a binge gamer. If he plays for 3 hours, takes a 1 hour break, then goes back to play for another 2 hours, he is still a binge gamer because he didn’t take a continuous 2 hour break during his 4+ hours of playing. Again, hit pause if he has done this at least once in the past month. It's time to play less.
Other Warning Signs That Your Kid Plays too much Video Games
There are other warning signs that are less measurable, but just as important:
- Preoccupation with gaming
- Tolerance (needing more stimulation for the same result)
- Unable to reduce/stop playing
- Giving up other activities
- Continuing to play despite problems
- Deception/covering up playing
- Playing to escape adverse moods
- Lose of friendships due to too much playing
These 9 criteria for gaming disorder are becoming more accepted as markers for identifying a video game problem. Yet, they are not always easy to identify and quantify.
The 3 definitive signs (playing longer than he sleeps, “heavy gaming” and “binge gaming”) provide a quick measuring tool for any concerned gamer (or concerned parent or spouse of a gamer) that it is time to play less.
If you have noticed any of the 3 definitive measurable warning signs, it’s time to hit pause. Look into the future for the next 6-12 months, or even into the next 5 years. Where will he be if he continues at this level? How will his schoolwork be affected? His friendships? Will playing to this degree help him accomplish his dreams?
You might also like this article "Kids' Nutrition: Picky Eaters And More With Megan Wroe"