By Tom Gonzalez, PhD, LPC, LCPC
Do you remember the first time you played a video game? My, how much fun you had? Have you ever played an online video game? Wow again. Fun multiplied!
Video games of all kinds are popular and certainly fun and entertaining. Yet, as with many other things we have discovered and explored in our lives, there are sometimes hazards that need to be addressed. We have learned that this is especially true about new and exciting video games. Often to our shock and amazement, reports abound about online gaming that led to unhealthy results.
What are the hazards and dangers of online gaming, especially for children and adolescents?
There is an ongoing discussion and debate among researchers about the effects of online gaming on a person’s health and well-being. Positive effects include increased motor skills, development of cognitive abilities and an outlet for aggression. Most negative concerns about online gaming relate to the length of time someone plays as it relates to potential physical and psychological problems. Concerns about continual gaming over extended periods of time by anyone – adult, adolescent or child – may include its effect on vision, mental acuity and healthy eating and sleeping habits. Online gaming can begin to dull normal responses to a person’s normal daily activities. An increasing concern is a dulling of appropriate responses to intense stimuli such as that associated with violent or traumatic situations in real life.
Negative physiological manifestations associated with online gaming may include a disregard for personal hygiene, muscle soreness, headaches, blurred vision, sleep deprivation, physical impairments like carpal tunnel syndrome and an increasingly inactive lifestyle that could impair one’s health.
Psychological manifestations can include depression, denial and potential addiction. The effects of long periods of isolation and seclusion while gaming can lead to a person finding her/his life beginning to spiral into confusion and disarray.
Other researchers have voiced concerns about sexual content (sometimes embedded in games) and the risk of cyberbullying and predation. Most parents don’t realize the risk of exploitation of their children by predators who can now disguise their voices to sound like children themselves, a feature that can lead to ongoing conversations by a child with someone who is not what they appear to be.
Does all of this mean that online gaming should be halted in your house? The answer is no.
What can a parent or caretaker do? Start with becoming better informed about your child’s gaming. Monitor your child’s behavior by paying attention, asking questions and sometimes even joining in on the fun. Hopefully it will be fun to watch your children play and be safe in this day of rapidly changing technology with so much fun to be had. And be sure to enjoy your healthy gaming, too!