It’s June 2020, and everyone is at home in quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With not much to do, a 9-year-old boy has been playing his favorite video game, Fortnite, for the last nine hours – only stopping to use the restroom and eat quickly with his family before going right back to his screen for another few hours of game time.
This has been a recurring pattern for the entire three months that the world has been on lockdown. Soon enough, the child can’t go more than five minutes without looking at a screen or itching to go back to his room and play video games.
Weight gain, lack of sleep and crude behavior toward his parents are a few of the problems that his newfound addiction to video games has caused. Sadly, there are worse cases all around the country.
School-age kids have a serious addiction to video games. According to Rachel Barclay in a 2018 article published in Healthline, more than 90% of American kids play video games, and the actual number might be as high as 99% among boys and 94% among girls.
While video games are primarily viewed as a hobby, recent advancements in the gaming scene that allow careers to be made out of playing games have incentivized many children to pick up the sticks and play for hours on end.
Play time shot up even higher in 2020 when children around the world were subjected to staying at home with not much else to do. Many children got addicted and it completely changed the outcome of their formative years.
Tammy Zamora, mother of two, has been teaching elementary and middle school for 19 years. She knows firsthand how addiction to video games has impacted not only her students, but also her youngest son.
“They’re centered around all of this technology … parents use it as a babysitter so that’s all [children] do is play video games,” Zamora said.
As a sixth-grade teacher who taught third grade during the lockdown, Zamora said the negative effects that video game addictions have had on her students are glaring. According to Zamora, students who didn’t pay attention during online classes two or three years ago because they were playing games did not retain basic knowledge. These learning deficits were obvious when they returned to in-person classes and are still causing problems today. Zamora said young students are struggling with serious problems because of this addiction.
“If we let him play and don’t limit the amount he plays, he can literally sit on the Xbox for eight hours a day.”
“Many kids were not paying attention in class even though they were logged in. [Those third graders] are sixth graders right now and many of them do not know basic facts like multiplication and division,” Zamora said. “Behavior problems are apparent now also. Kids think they can do what they want when they want and that they don’t have to turn stuff in. They literally have no social skills.”
These learning and behavioral issues hit home for Zamora. She experienced first-hand the problems that video game addiction caused for her now 12-year-old son. Her son is the aforementioned 9-year-old boy who was addicted to Fortnite during the COVID lockdown.
“If we let him play and don’t limit the amount he plays, he can literally sit on the Xbox for eight hours a day,” Zamora said about her youngest son. “There really wasn’t much for him to do [during the pandemic] so that pretty much is all he did. We couldn’t go out, couldn’t do anything, so that’s all he did.”
While a video game addiction may not be as harmful or as draining as many other serious addictions, it is still a problem that is affecting young people, and experts say it needs to be addressed.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry emphasizes the negative effects of children being “overly involved with video games.” These include less time for socializing with friends and family, poor social skills, lower grades in school, less exercise and weight gain.
The AACAP provides the following tips for parents to help them protect their children from a serious addiction: Avoid letting pre-school age children play video games; play video games with children so parents can share the experience and discuss the games’ contents; enforce total screen time limits; and ensure video games are only played after homework and chores are done.
Luckily, Zamora, her husband and her son were able to overcome this problem before it got completely out of hand. And for anyone that may need help, she shared what she did to manage her son’s gaming habits and avoid anything too serious.
“We’ve really kept him busy with baseball, basketball, practices and tournaments and stuff like that. Just keeping your kids busy outside of the house so that they’re not just there. Go with them, don’t just let them stay on the video games. Limit them and get them involved in outside stuff like we [adults] used to do when we didn’t have video games,” Zamora said.
While gaming has increasingly become more popular over the years, a departure from a life stuck at home has surely helped children become less and less consumed by the technology. However, gaming addiction is still a very serious problem that is harming the nation’s future minds and workers.
Learn more about video game addiction online. If you or someone you know is struggling with this or other technology-related addictions, visit the Addiction Center online or call 866-440-3814.