Should Parents Be Concerned About Gaming?

A Better You Blog, Should Parents Be Concerned with Gaming?: Photo of Child's Hands Holding a Video Game Controller

Every year since its inception, gaming popularity has increased. Today, the graphics and sound are close to lifelike. Worldwide, gaming is now a $178 billion a year industry. By 2025, projections show that number will increase to $270 billion. Currently, there are 2 billion gamers across the world.

75% of boys in the US identify as some type of gamer. In the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Internet Gaming Disorder is now identified. Yikes!

In other words, gaming is here to stay and if not managed, it can be problematic.

So what makes video games so popular? The instant reward for achievement much like the slot machine player relishes the sounds and bright, flashing lights when they hit a jackpot.

The two situations I hear most from parents is their child is either always gaming or gaming right to or even past bedtime. Getting through a level gets the player more money and gems to purchase items supposedly to make future rounds easier to conquer.

No research is foolproof, however, there have been several reports that examined the impact of video gaming before bedtime. Two recent studies were very intriguing.

The first, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that children who played video games spent less time in third and fourth REM sleep, the most important stages during the sleep cycle. In comparison, watching TV without any video game play before bed, had no effect on sleep patterns.

Another, from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, analyzed the impact of video game playing before bedtime versus DVD watching on thirteen teenage boys. The data revealed that it took longer to fall asleep and self-reported sleepiness was lower after video game playing than after watching a movie. However, the amount of time the teens spent in deep sleep did not significantly change for the two conditions. In review, the study concluded that video game playing slightly to moderately reduced sleep quality.

Depending on the selection, video play often elicits the release of adrenalin flow. Adrenalin is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, especially in conditions of stress and increased excitement. If your child is competitive and has a history of getting frustrated or yelling while game playing, an adrenalin rush can occur. Hardly the chemical reaction a parent wants to deal with at bedtime.

Another variable is to be considered. Trying to sleep immediately after a long stretch of intense video gaming can be challenging because it can solicit repetitive imagery and sound playing in the brain. Scientists have referred to this as the Tetris Effect which occurs when people devote so much time and attention to an activity it begins to pattern their thoughts, mental images, and dreams. Seeing the actions as if the brain has them on a loop, especially the struggles where mistakes have been made are difficult to turn off if there hasn’t been enough time between engagement and sleep. Add in the catchy tune that plays in the background and the mind can have difficulty shutting down allowing the gamer to get restful, deep REM sleep.

The research isn’t glaring and certainly more studies are needed. Even if sleep isn’t greatly impacted, there’s another aspect to consider. The amount of time spent playing the games. A survey found teenage boys spent 50 to 150 minutes a day, on average, playing video games. Research indicates there may be a connection between kids that game excessively and depression.

This isn’t meant to bash video games. They do have a few possible benefits. Some studies imply video games can improve executive functioning or problem-solving skills. They can also expand the brain’s ability to make quicker decisions and improve hand-eye coordination. Decompressing after a long, stressful day with some mindless activity, like playing a video game, can help ease the transition before it’s time to reboot into more important tasks.

It’s fair to question if these possible benefits outweigh the amount of time spent and what’s gained over such things as calling Grammy, studying, sports, hobbies, volunteering, extracurricular activities, reading, or exercising. Most academic and social achievers are utilizing their free time in these areas and demonstrate fewer depressive symptoms.

Like most questionable things, if done in moderation, at the right time of day, video games be an acceptable method to escape for a moment or two. However, playing less often and not before bedtime may require hitting the pause button.