Childhood Development, Internet Gaming Disorder & Addiction, Time Management

Internet Gaming Disorder and Addiction Will Be Epidemic

This is how I see it at the 30,000 feet view.

First, watch this short 4:50 min video on brain development in children:

I was addicted to digital games as an adult in my 20’s, AFTER my brain was programmed for fundamental skills such as: creativity, self-control, communication skills, empathy, reflective thought, and other higher executive functions. However, I think my wife would argue that I lack some of these skills today, such as self-control; but, I am definitely improving!

Once the brain matures with age, it’s more difficult to “program” new skills; hence, the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

This is why excessive gaming is extremely dangerous in young children.

From ages 0 to 18, a child has about 150,000 hours to program the brain.

The average child now is using 7.5 hours daily of digital media, which equates to about 50,000 hours from ages 0 to 18.

Because digital games stimulate the mind and body: 1) brain dopamine and 2) physiological arousal through the adrenal system and perhaps even natural endorphins, i.e. “painkiller” aspect of gaming, I know addicted kids who are playing 10-16 hours daily. Let’s say they become addicted at age 6, that’s 44,000 to 70,000 hours of gaming, or one-third to nearly HALF of their brain development is devoted to gaming.

As human beings, when devoting that much time to one activity, we are giving up other behavioral programming. Add in sleep deprivation because digital games are “arousing” and push people through the night, we are seeing young adults who struggle with fundamental skills in communication, empathy, reflective thought, creativity and higher executive functions.

Why is this a huge problem in 2014?

The first cable modems became available to the mass market in early 2000. This took gaming to a more addictive level with BattleNet, PS Network, XBOX live, etc… Multiplayer gaming and Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games were then possible with wide-spread connectivity, and kids play in isolation in their homes and bedrooms.

Thus, we are now seeing a group of kids during the last decade on “digital crack.” Give it time, and we’ll start seeing millions of kids fail out of life due to lack of fundamental skills because based on peer-reviewed research, the Internet Gaming Disorder and addiction rate is 1 in 11 kids, or approximately 3 millions kids 8 to 18 in the United States alone.

If we’re seeing SERIOUS, UGLY problems with adults being addicted who grew up with normal neurological development, what problems will we see with kids who were addicted to digital gaming for the last decade, underdeveloped in higher executive functions, such as lacking in: self-control, empathy, reflective thought, desire to be with people & family, communication skills, creativity, and ability to think more than just about the game?

Andrew Doan MD PhD

2 comments to “Internet Gaming Disorder and Addiction Will Be Epidemic”

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  1. Thanks for this great article about game addiction and explaining objectively why games are bad for kids. I am unfortunately someone who has been addicted to games, not as an adult, but as a kid. I started playing around age 10 and continued until around 18 at which point I very gradually cut it from my life. I played two types of games, competitive games like Midtown Madness and Call of Duty, and adventure RPGs like Elder Scrolls. They both helped fill a void in my life that have both been replaced by something new in my adult life, i.e. Computer Programming, and real life travel.
    I believe, for each type of game there lies a unique reason why that game is desirable to the kid.
    For adventure games it is the adventure which is not present in most children’s lives. Most parents don’t have the money to travel with their children across the world. This type of game has been associated with the word “escapism” but I wonder how many kids would want to “escape” when traveling to Japan, India, Italy, etc is a real alternative.
    For competitive games it is the desire to develop a skill, and experience the fruits of your labor as you dominate the competitive scene. The obvious alternative to this is sports, which is very much available to kids. Of course, many sports can’t be played without others and those others might not want to play as much. On the other hand, competitive games like CoD and WoW will have games available 24/7. The less obvious alternative for those with an “Addictive Personality” interested in competition is a STEM field. STEM is filled with concepts, techniques, and skills to learn and practice. With the internet, the community is active 24/7, and there are all sorts of competitions kids can strive for, e.g. Google Code Jam, American Mathematics Competition, testing out of classes, etc.
    I guess my point is, parents who are convinced that gaming is bad, should not stop at cutting games, they should find the underlying motivator and strive to channel the kids energy into a productive alternative.