Many parents I coach have concerns for their child’s physical and mental health when they are playing video games and/or social media scrolling in excess. What I hear most often are worries about weight gain or weight loss, fatigue, poor sleep patterns, poor performance at school (if they are attending), anxiety, and depression, and sometimes suicidal ideologies.
These are all valid concerns, and symptomatic of gaming addiction. If you are concerned that your child is moving towards an unhealthy relationship with gaming, it’s good to consider prevention strategies. First, let’s look at what effect excessive gaming and/or and screen time is having on children’s health?
Weight Loss is inevitable for those who are skipping meals to game.
Obesity can occur for those who are eating junk food, often in front of their consoles, and not exercising
Physical Pain is on the rise. Doctors and Chiropractors are seeing an increase in neck pain, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, headaches, and digestive issues with children spending too much time in front of a screen and while manning a game controller.
Insomnia & Fatigue is imminent as a result of late night gaming which is changing children’s sleep/awake cycles. Many are simply not getting enough sleep or can’t get to sleep after staying up well past bedtime to continue gaming, due to the overload of stimulation, and sometimes from drinking caffeinated beverages.
Lower performance in school can be caused by a preoccupation with video game play as well as the fatigue students are experiencing. Poor sleep quality makes it difficult to focus on their studies, and constantly thinking about when they can scroll or play video games again leads to distraction in the classroom.
Dry Eyes/Nearsightedness is caused by looking closely at screens for hours which then causes the eye’s lens to shift its focus and over time can cause the eyeball to lengthen, which can lead to or worsen nearsightedness. Blue light from a screen can damage the retina and create light sensitivity, eye strain, and dry eyes.
Hearing Loss results from continual use of headphones and unsafe volume. If you can hear the sounds and music coming from your kid’s headphones as they play video games, it’s too loud.
Heightened Anxiety and Depression can be seen in children who are addicted because their sleep patterns and quality are unhealthy, diet is poor, exercise doesn’t exist, there’s a disconnect with relationships in their physical world, online bullying, pressure to win, and extreme virtual stimulation that their brains can’t cope with.
So, what are some of the things a parent can implement to reduce harm to their child?
Remove gaming consoles, PC, and laptops from your child’s bedroom, and move these to a central location in your home where you can monitor your child’s gaming/screen time. A child will create a solitary space around their device. They will see it as an individually used object, not something to be shared with others, and this can create secrecy. You want to be able to share some of their online experience and be able to ask questions and show an interest.
Require your child to eat only in the kitchen/dining area of your home. Do not bring food to your child for fear that they won’t eat. They will get hungry eventually and will go looking for food.
When shopping for groceries, reduce or eliminate the amount of unhealthy foods and caffeinated drinks. Purchase more foods that require prep or take more time to eat for snack times, such as fruits and raw vegetables. Make it a rule that your child eats one meal a day with the family, and do not allow cell phones at the table. Make sure your child is drinking plenty of water so they stay hydrated.
Purchase an App or system that allows you to control when your internet is on and when it is turned off. Set a reasonable and regular bedtime and do not allow cell phones in bedrooms at this time. Children are clever and they can use the data from their phones to access gaming internet time.
Make a chore list, including outdoor chores to encourage exercise as well as independence and responsibility. And do not allow internet/gaming time until chores are complete.
Encourage your child to start a walking routine or join a sport.
Turn the internet off during school assignment and homework time.
Have “tech-free” times in your home at least once a week and engage in family play with board or card games or outdoor activity.
Have your child’s eyes examined by an optometrist. Encourage your child to implement the 20-20-20 rule; every twenty minutes, they should take a twenty second break from their screen, and look away at an object that is at least twenty feet away, so that their eye muscles are given a chance to relax.
Take your child to the family physician if you have concerns about anxiety, depression, and any suicidal expressions your child is exhibiting, and ask for help.
When you find it impossible or challenging to implement even one of these changes, it’s time to look for help in a coach. This is an indication that you need someone knowledgeable in this field to provide support and advice to get you started, and provide accountability and a cheering section to keep the momentum going.