Video game addiction among children and teens may contribute to the development of depression and anxiety, according to Iowa State researchers.
The study also found that children who are more likely to become addicted to video games are those who spend a lot of time playing them, have trouble fitting in with their peers and are more impulsive.
Once addicted, these children were more prone to depression, anxiety and shyness. They also suffered a decline in their school performance.
"What we've known from other studies is that video gaming addiction looks similar to other addictions. But what wasn't clear was what comes before what. Gaming might be a secondary problem. It might be that kids who are socially awkward, who aren't doing well in school, get depressed and then lose themselves into games. We haven't really known if gaming is important by itself, or what puts kids at risk for becoming addicted," said Douglas A. Gentile, associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University in Ames.
Not only did this study reveal what the risk factors for video game addiction were - playing over 30 hours per week, social incompetence, lower than average empathy and impulsiveness- it also clarified the link between depression, anxiety and pathological gaming. The researchers "found that in kids who started gaming pathologically, depression and anxiety got worse. And, when they stopped gaming, the depression lifted. It may be that these disorders coexist," said Gentile, "but games seem to make the problem worse."
Gentile notes that playing a lot of video games is not the same thing as addiction. Some children may play a lot of games without it having any effect on their lives. If you see serious problems in your child's life like falling grades, however, he may have a problem. It really depends whether his gaming is having any adverse effects on his day-to-day functioning.
Gentile makes the recommendation - which is in agreement with the American Academy of Pediatrics - that kids should be limited to no more than two hours a day of "screen time." Screen time includes time watching TV, using a computer, playing video games or using phones or other devices that have computer-like capabilities.
The study will be published in the February issue of Pediatrics.