At times, it can feel like the entire population is addicted to playing video games. I must remind myself that although nine percent of the world are suffering with this addiction, ninety-one percent are playing for recreation and having no issues.

As an author, speaker, and advocate for Video Gaming Addiction Awareness, I am continually immersed in research material, articles, and stories from experts and parents about the nightmares of managing this disorder. Many parents are desperate to get video gaming consoles out of their homes and get their teenager or young adult back to school or off to a job. Some of these situations bring so much heart ache for me, as I re-live the struggles I had with my own adult son. He fought me on his addiction, for a lengthy time before finally taking responsibility and completely detoxing.

So, what is it that separates those who play for fun and can regulate their time to those who become pathologically obsessed and compulsive about gaming?

When we are not very good at an activity or skill and it seems impossible to achieve a high level, we can choose to avoid it or we can attempt it, practice often and with determination, and we can eventually master this skill. I have done this myself with tennis. I grew up slight in size, weak in muscular strength, believing I didn’t have a natural, athletic bone in my body. I was always that last person selected on a team in gym class. In my mid thirties I joined a gym and began a work-out routine that eventually gave me the confidence to give sports another chance. At age thirty-nine I bought a tennis racquet, I found a coach, and I began taking lessons. Of course, I was terrible, at first, and it was difficult to find my rhythm and timing on the court. But I stuck with it, I continued lessons, I played with others, and eventually joined a team. I am no Wimbledon champ, but I love playing and continue to do so, well into my fifties. My brain told me to keep trying, that I would eventually succeed. So, I did.

The same happens with playing video games. Gaming provides you the ability to take action and helps you to achieve a goal. And even if it’s difficult at first, when you stay with it and begin to get better, while gaining new skills, your brain learns that you have a good, long history of improving, so it wants you to keep trying. And eventually you get this euphoric high for your accomplishment. It feels empowering and satisfying!

A good game design is meant to have you gain skills and eventually win. It teaches you determination and tenacity, problem-solving, building support networks, teamwork and bonding. These abilities can then transfer to life outside of video games.

So, can everyone benefit from playing video games? The answer is no. For those who are using gaming as a source of learning and recreation, who are regulating their time spent playing and have the ability to take action, purely to achieve a goal and improve skills, they can benefit greatly from interacting with video games. They see gaming as “real” and understand how this can help them in their life.

Those who turn to video gaming as escapism, as a way of ignoring personal problems, to push down negative self talk and emotions, or to get away from people who are bullying or annoying them, are at high risk of becoming compulsive and addicted. They bring an entirely different mindset to the activity. 

This is my target audience and they are the reason I share my son’s story. As a parent, I missed the signs, with my son who was suffering internally and lacked the ability to see video games as anything other than a place to escape from his personal troubles. There were questions I could have been asking him. I could have monitored his gaming more closely. I should have regulated his time spent playing these games. This is key information I can now share with parents.

How do you know, as a parent that gaming is right for their child? Take the time to sit with your child as they play video games. Play with them, if you can. Take an interest in why they play. Ask them about the game and allow them to express to you their problem-solving process. Ask them about their online friendships and what they mean to them. Draw out as much information as possible so that your child can reflect on what they are learning, what they’re improving upon, how creative they are in solving different problems, and how they are staying engaged despite the difficult challenges in the game. And if they find it too difficult to talk to you while they are immersed in the game, then talk about it with them afterwards. Don’t turn a blind eye and let video gaming become a secret activity your child never shares with you. The more you learn, the better equipped you will be in determining if gaming is a healthy outlet for your child.

And regulate their time playing. The research shows that playing video games for less than twenty hours a week creates little to no issues. It doesn’t interfere with your child reaching other goals, like school work, relationships, or sports and club activities. It also helps to protects their emotional and physical well-being.

There is a lot of news about Video Gaming Addiction. It’s a hot topic today and appears to be epidemic. It is not. However, it is growing. We, as parents need to arm ourselves with good information and make smart decisions in our homes. Moderation and parental involvement are the key to enjoying video gaming in your family. And awareness of your child’s internal emotional and personal struggles can be a good indicator that gaming may or may not be right for them, at this time.