Are teens playing too many video games?

The average American youth reports playing 13.2 hours of video games per week. Is this too much? We review the basic facts of teen video game play and pose the question here: “Are teens playing too many video games?”

minute read

Problematic video gaming = impulse control disorders?

Problematic video game play is similar to impulse control disorders (ICDs) such as compulsive gambling, sex or shopping. Although researchers still need to scientifically refine the definition of problematic gaming, we can use the criteria for ICDs as guidelines. This helps us identify the signs of video game addiction. The three main symptoms of video game problems include:

1. Cravings, urges or growing tension before video gaming
2. Relief or pleasure after gaming
3. Repeated gaming despite negative consequences

Problem gaming IS NOT defined by parents

It’s important to note that video game addiction and problematic gaming are not defined by concern or complaints from family. The complicated and often conflictual relationship between teens and their parents often skews objective reasoning. Therefore, problem video game playing must follow diagnostic criteria as outlined by professionals, rather than by amateurs.

What is too much video game play?

The effects of video-gaming can be positive or negative. Despite the mixed views and opinions in the video game debate, doctors, scientists and researchers has found little to no evidence that recreational play ALONE has negative consequences. But what is a normal amount of time to play video games, and when does gaming cross that line?

Unfortunately, there are no uniformly agreed upon thresholds for too much video game play. In fact, scientists say that more research is needed to define safe levels of gaming. Nonetheless, teens (especially boys) that play more than 3 hours of video games per day are more likely to smoke, use drugs, or fight. And a recent study set a median threshold of pathological gaming somewhere between 31-38 hours per week. So even if your teen is gaming more than 3 hours a day, this in itself is not an indicator of addiction. But here’s a little info that you can use to compare your teen video game play with the norm.

Average teen weekly video game frequency*

Less than 7 hours 61%

Between 7-14 hours 19%

Between 15-20 hours 9%

More than 20 hours 11%

“Too many video games” is subjective

If you are trying to limit your own (or someone else’s) video game play, you can compare gaming addiction levels to your own. But remember that excessive gaming also result in “time warp”, so that your own measurements may not be accurate. And in the end, you’ve got to set an internal standard. Perhaps this will be based on hours spent on-screen. Or perhaps it will be based on quality of life issues including social, emotional or physical time spent in other activities. However, when you start to exhibit signs of video game addiction, you should consider real and immediate help. Your questions and comments are welcomed here.

*4000 surveyed teens in Connecticut public schools

Reference sources: Pathological video game use among youth 8 to 18: A national study
Video-Gaming Among High School Students: Health Correlates, Gender Differences, and Problematic Gaming
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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