By JoAnn Seltzer
Presented as part of a series for Mental Health Awareness Month on behalf of CenClear and The Meadows.
BIGLER – Everywhere there are people, someone can be found attached to a phone or other device.
Parents fret about teens they can’t pull away from their video games; children playing with rocks outside have been replaced with children playing with smartphones.
The question is, when does a love of online games become a problem?
Like other types of addiction, playing video games releases endorphins in the brain; people feel happy when they’re playing. Naturally, they want to keep that feel- good feeling; and they continue to play the games.
“Game producers know the research,” Denise Moore, CenClear director of mental health and drug and alcohol services, said. “They’re in the business of sales. They create games to be stimulating. Kids want to buy it, and parents want to make kids happy, so they buy it.”
Even children who can’t seem to sit still for anything else sit and play video games for hours. Moore said she’s had parents ask her why their children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can’t focus on a board game or homework but can focus on a video game.
“It’s very stimulating; the noise, colors movement, so it looks like they’re focusing on something, but the game’s constantly changing,” Moore said; this is what keeps their attention.
“Children are being exposed to video games younger and younger. Now instead of handing a child a book, it’s common to see toddlers being handed a smartphone to play games.
“Handing a child a phone to entertain them for a few minutes as a parent waits with their child in a doctor’s office doesn’t hurt anything, but it can become a problem if children spend too much time on electronics.”
If parents notice video games are interfering with their child’s daily activities, such as school work, extracurricular activities, or, in other ways they need to set limits, Moore said.
Parents can require children to “earn” video game time by doing chores or schoolwork. Parents may find it difficult to limit their teen’s video game time, but they always have access to the power cord, she said.
Long before video games became regular entertainment for children, casinos were drawing adults to their machines. Today, there’s no need to leave home to play poker or bet on sporting events. Pandemic-led lockdowns accelerated this trend.
Kathleen Snyder, a CenClear mental health and drug and alcohol therapist, said an increase in mental health issues such as depression and anxiety got worse as a result of the pandemic.
At the same time, it became easier to gamble with an increase in online gaming options. Surprisingly, those 14-21 years old are the ones who have the biggest problems with gambling, Snyder said.
It can be difficult for the person playing the games to realize there’s a problem since playing video games doesn’t come with the same stigma as using drugs, Snyder said.
With gambling, the person playing the games may not realize there is a problem until they incur legal issues. For an adult, this could be foreclosures on their home, their spouse threatening to leave, etc.
To help someone with a gambling problem the person with the problem first needs to realize there is a problem, Snyder said. She agrees that if it is a teen having issues with gambling, parents may be able to intervene by being open and honest with the child.
If it is a problem that parents, or the individual cannot control, they can seek treatment. The Pennsylvania Gambling Association has funds to help pay for treatment if a person doesn’t have insurance, Snyder said.
To get help with gambling addiction, call 800-522-4700.