Q&A with Nancy Petry, Ph.D., internet addiction expert
How prominent is internet addiction in the U.S.?
The explosion of our use of the internet, computers, and mobile technology is fairly new, so no one really knows the prevalence of internet or screen addiction as it hasn’t been studied nor standardly assessed. But the NIH took a significant step to begin funding my research in this area, so there soon will be insights. In December 2017, the World Health Organization announced it would be recognizing “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition in its 11th International Classification of Diseases.
Who is at most risk of a gaming disorder?
Anyone, regardless of age or gender, who plays video or online games excessively may be at risk of becoming addicted. However, the most vulnerable population may be the more than 90 percent of boys ages 8 to 17 who play. While the lives of the vast majority of child gamers are not adversely impacted, about 1.5 percent of children develop significant problems when they begin to play for very long hours and forego other activities to play games. Children with a video game addiction play 3 to 8 hours daily, sometimes more.
Boys are at much greater risk than girls because they play electronic games more. Children who are more socially isolated, or have depression or attention deficit disorder (ADD) are also at greater risk. Parents should be aware of warning signs including new problems at school, trouble with or a decline in social interactions with family and friends, and a reduction in other hobbies they once enjoyed.
Tell us about your novel video gaming disorder research study aiming to curb the problem.
We at UConn Health have the first NIH-funded clinical trial to help parents with their child’s video game addiction. The study tests the benefits of a family therapy approach, with one or both parents and the child participating. The children are ages 10-19 and they must have developed significant problems related to gaming. Parents are coached on how to better understand what gaming addiction is, why their child derives pleasure from the activity, and the best ways to monitor and intervene to reduce their child’s gaming. There are no other such studies in the U.S. to our knowledge, and only a handful of studies in Europe and Southeast Asia have evaluated interventions.
What do you recommend to patients to curb Internet or gaming use?
Electronics are a big part of daily life, and they are not going away. It is up to each of us to limit internet or game use and make sure we, and our children, are not losing out on other things in life due to excessive use. Just like everything else, moderation is key. If you notice you or a loved one has or may become addicted to the internet or gaming, set rules such as no gaming or electronics use after 9 p.m. and start to make time for other hobbies you enjoy.