Children addicted to online video games at no greater risk for psychiatric issues


Researchers say children diagnosed with ‘Internet Gaming Disorder’ actually less likely to experience anxiety than other kids.


TRONDHEIM, Norway — Internet Gaming Disorder is a uniquely modern ailment. Scientists generally describe it as video games interfering with one’s life to the point it becomes an addiction. IGD is seen most often in young children and adolescents. Now, however, a new study finds IGD may not actually be as bad as it sounds.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) say there is no connection between the condition and psychiatric issues in children. Surprisingly, they find kids with IGD tend to experience less anxiety than their peers.

These findings certainly dispute the general narrative surrounding children and video games. For decades adults have blamed video game consoles for a litany of childhood problems, both behavioral or emotional. The reality of the situation, however, appears to be more complex than a blanket statement like “video games are bad for kids.”

Mixed messages about online video games

Highlighting this complex relationship, prior research finds excessive screen time can be detrimental to a child’s emotional intelligence. At the same time, other research contends kids learn quite a bit from online video games. They usually end up making lots of friends and meeting their social needs along the way.

“We’ve found no connection between IGD and psychiatric problems, other than that 10- and 12-year-olds who had more symptoms of gaming addiction developed fewer symptoms of anxiety two years later, when they were 12 and 14 years old,” says study co-author Beate Wold Hygen in a media release.

How can this be the case? The study’s authors theorize that online games may be beneficial for children because they provide a social outlet and distraction from the day’s events. This idea holds particular weight in reference to 2020, considering millions of children have been cooped up inside and unable to see their friends in person.

“We looked at anxiety, depression, ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder. But children who had more symptoms of these mental disorders were not more susceptible to gaming addiction,” Hygen adds.

What if mental struggles are already an issue for gamers?

“When psychiatric difficulties and IGD occur at the same time, which they do, they must be explained by other shared underlying factors,” says study co-author Professor Lars Wichstrøm.

This study was possible thanks to interviews conducted with 702 children from the Trondheim Early Secure Study. All the adolescents, now 16 or 17 years-old, were periodically tracked through surveys and tests since the age of four.

The study is published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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