Welcome back to the Digital Detox series! In the first article, we talked about what happens when kids spend more time in the digital world and less time in the great outdoors. The second one covered the dangers of artificial blue light from screens and the benefits of natural sunlight. In this article, we’ll talk about the effects of video games on kids and how to empower the superhero in each child. Let’s start out with a few dangers of chronic video game engagement.

5 Dangers of Video Games

We naturally know that technology has both pros and cons, even if we don’t like to admit it. While video games do appear to help with hand-eye coordination, quick thinking, and a few other things, the question is whether the dangers outweigh the benefits. Here are five downsides of regular gaming.

1. Artificial Blue Light Exposure

An obvious downside of playing video games is screen time. Like watching TV, working or playing on the computer, using a cell phone, and spending time on an iPad, playing video games gives your kids more artificial blue light exposure, which, research shows, has all kinds of downsides.

Some of the damaging effects, as mentioned in our Blue Light article, include

  • Worsening eyesight
  • Headaches
  • Attention problems
  • Sleep issues
  • Weight gain
  • A tendency for depression
  • An increased risk of cancer.

Read the full article to get the research behind these associations.

2. Increases Stress and Anxiety

Video games also tend to increase stress and anxiety in children. In a world that is becoming more and more stressful, video games are not helping. Research is building up showing that gaming leads to a poor stress response, including a chronic state of “fight-or-flight” (think, anxiety) and messed up cortisol levels.

Since stress increases inflammation and dis-ease in the body, the stress-promoting aspect of video games is something to take seriously.

3. May Contribute to ADHD

An analysis of 45 studies published in the journal Developmental Psychology found that gaming and other media may contribute to ADHD-like behaviors or a diagnosis of ADHD. While there are certainly other factors to consider, such as food allergies and other imbalances, it makes sense that fast-paced content may cause attention and other issues.

Those diagnosed with ADHD may be at increased risk of addiction to this pastime. ADHD symptom severity went along with gaming addiction severity and the type of video game made no difference. Let’s go a bit more into this danger of gaming –beyond the ADHD connection.

4. May Lead to Addictions

“Video game addiction” is a real concern. Nearly a quarter of those who play video games report addiction-related symptoms. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially listed it as “gaming disorder” in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Disease (ICD-11). So, gaming disorder is officially classified as a mental health disorder and has its own code as a medication condition – just like depression and schizophrenia. The WHO defines it as:

  1. A pattern of gaming behavior characterized by a lack of control over gaming.
  2. Prioritizing gaming over other, more important activities
  3. Continuing to play games despite the occurrence of negative consequences

You may know someone who relates to one or more of these. It’s more common than you would think. In fact, there’s even a TEDx Talk on Escaping Video Game Addiction. There are also video game addiction therapists across the United States.

How does gaming lead to addictions? Video games activate something referred to as a “triumph circuit” or “pleasure circuit.” A triumph circuit is a psychological pattern that is activated with a challenge and resolved with a reward for overcoming that challenge. It gives the player a “rush.” That is what happens when you achieve points, move on to the next level, or eliminate your enemy in video games.

For some reason, this response pattern is much stronger in men than in women. Sadly, this reward system isn’t leading to accomplishments in life. There’s no real reward. You just stay seated in front of a screen. If you’re wondering whether gaming is leading to an actual addiction, here is a 5-minute Video Game Addiction Questionnaire.

5. Desensitization to Violence

While it depends on the content of the individual video game, ongoing gaming can lead to desensitization to real-life violence, making boys more callous and less able to relate to the suffering of others. That’s important because empathy is needed to trigger moral reasoning and ethical responses in society.

The result is increased aggression and a decrease in acceptable social behaviors. It may even decrease a child’s ability to find non-violent solutions to problems. Video games may seriously impair a child’s ability to effectively respond to situations they encounter as they grow up.

Empower Your Superhero Instead

As mentioned earlier, video games, like most technology, may have some positives, and, just like food, it depends which choices you make. However, life is better lived in person, and there are so many non-screen activities that have the same benefits (and more) that gaming is purported to have. Other activities can certainly improve executive functioning, hand-eye coordination, improved problem-solving skills, and move. These skills come more from engaging in new experiences than from sitting in front of a screen.

Harvard-trained psychiatrist, Dr. Alok Kanojia (MD, MPH), is considered the foremost expert on video game addiction. He has found that certain activities work better as alternatives to gaming depending on the genre of video games preferred. Here are some examples:

Outdoor Alternatives

Outdoor Competitive Sports and Rollercoasters

Outdoor competitive sports, like soccer, baseball, football, and tennis are great for gamers because they pair the thrill of competition with time in the fresh air and natural light. They also promote learning new skills and winning in the face of adversity. Rollercoasters provide that sense of danger alongside the fresh air and sunshine.

Best for those who play:

  • First-Person Shooter Games, like Fortnite and Call of Duty
  • Sports Games, like FIFA

Boy Scouts or Trail Life USA

Boy Scouts or Trail Life USA (a Christian-based alternative to Boy Scouts) provide a feeling of shared community. Like the below video games, team members work together to accomplish a common goal.

Best for those who play:

  • Clan games, such as Clash of Clans
  • MMORPGs, like Final Fantasy 14 and World of Warcraft

Non-Group-Based Nature Activities

Other nature activities may also appeal to gamers who are curious and get a thrill out of exploration and adventure. Depending on their level of adrenaline-seeking, ideas include hiking, rock climbing, or whitewater rafting.

Best for those who play:

  • Adventure games
  • MOBAs
  • Sports games

Indoor Non-Screen Alternatives

Indoor Competitive Sports

Indoor competitive sports, like wrestling, hockey, and basketball, appeal to gamers because they provide that thrill of competition along with a little bit of a sense of danger. (Hockey injuries happen…). Like outdoor competitive sports, they promote learning new skills and winning in the face of adversity.

Best for those who play:

  • First-Person Shooter Games, like Fortnite and Call of Duty
  • Sports Games, like FIFA

Learning an Art or Trade

Adventure gamers are likely to be drawn to the idea of learning an art or trade because of their ongoing pursuit of the new and interesting. They get a rush from learning, creating, or seeing something they’ve never encountered before. Ideas include woodworking, welding, sculpting, painting, learning a musical instrument, building furniture, and more.

Best for those who play:

  • Adventure games

Beneficial Screen-Based Alternatives

Internships at Startups

If you’re going to be on a screen, it may as well prepare you for a career! That way, the reward system is used to reenforce actual success in life rather than just mastering a level on a video game. Tech and financial startups are common routes for online internships. Mastering a subject appeals to those who enjoy strategy games and collectible card games.

Best for those who play:

  • Turn-Based Strategy games, like the Civilizations, XCOM, and the Total War series
  • Collectible Card Games, like Hearthstone, Artifact, and Gwent

Learning to Code or Providing Online Tutoring

Learning to code provides the challenge of understanding systems and quantitative mastery. Coding and tutoring also fulfill the need to learn new skills and teach them to others.

Best for those who play:

  • Role-Playing Games, like the Final Fantasy series, Witcher, and Diablo 3
  • Turn-Based Strategy games, like the Civilizations, XCOM, and the Total War series
  • Collectible Card Games, like Hearthstone, Artifact, and Gwent

Playing The Stock Market with Phantom Portfolios

This is a great way to learn the art of investing without losing any money. Turn-Based Strategy and CCG players like planning and executing strategies, and playing the stock market phantom portfolios is a great way to get that thrill

Best for those who play:

  • Turn-Based Strategy games, like the Civilizations, XCOM, and the Total War series
  • Collectible Card Games, like Hearthstone, Artifact, and Gwent

Stop the Mayhem, The Wellness Way

Switching from addictive, non-productive screen time to beneficial outdoor or indoor activities will go a long way toward embracing a healthy lifestyle. If your child has symptoms that may or may not be screen-related, like ADHD-like behaviors, aggression, sleep issues, or other mental health issues, there may be something else going on. Like the gears inside a Swiss watch, every system of the body affects all the others, and one symptom may be caused by multiple imbalances. Whatever puts stress on the nervous system, whether that’s excess gaming or food allergies, leads to imbalances in multiple systems. To find out what’s causing your child’s symptoms, contact a Wellness Way Clinic today.

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