Excessive Video Gaming Not Just a Symptom: Issues in ADHD

Medical News: Excessive Video Gaming Not Just a Symptom - in Pediatrics, Parenting from MedPage Today

to start, I remind you again that due to Apple Computer ending it's web hosting services I've moved my website to a new host. The website is still found through the url: wwwrelatedminds.com or www.relatedmindsbc.com. My blog is also move. For the time being most blogs, in addition to being posted on blogger, will be reposted at the new site at: http://www.relatedmindsbc.com/blog
Now, back to video gaming.

Many families come in with their children, who often have a diagnosis of ADHD or ADD, and complain about excessive video gaming. They can't drag their kids away from the machines, and can't get them to stop. They ask me if the video gaming is, in itself, pathological, or if it can cause pathology such as excessive anger, violent behaviour and poor concentration (this is a big concern for parents who already have a diagnosis of ADHD for their child). There really hasn't been much research on this issue until recently, and the research there is isn't very clear. However, this study by Douglas Gentile, PhD, of Iowa State University, has found some interesting...and worrying...connections.

So the real question is, does excessive gaming cause pathology, or does pathology cause excessive gaming? This two year prospective study (with over 3,000 children identified in the data) identified several baseline psychological factors that predicted excessive gaming. These include: impulsivity, depression, social difficulties and poor overall school performance.  These conditions seemed to act as outcomes of pathological gaming. But this excessive pathological gaming seems not to simply be secondary to these other disorders, but to be predictive of poorer functioning overall. This poor overall functioning can last for several years.

For instance, while impulsivity is a risk factor for excessive and pathological gaming, impulsivity worsens after a youth becomes a pathological gamer. The study found that increases in pathological gaming were predictive of depression, anxiety, social phobia and poor school performance.  The relationship between these factors was especially strong for depression.  Some limitations of this study were: it's location (Singapore -can it be generalized to Western cultures?) and that the study relied on self reports from these children.

What can we learn from this? First, I think, that we should not ignore the possibility that there is an underlying depression or anxiety with children who spend too much time gaming. This can often be determined through a clinical interview and further assessment if necessary. And second, that impulsivity is a critical factor in helping the child reduce gaming activity. This is especially true for kids with ADHD who seemingly can focus on an XBox game for several hours, but can't spent 10 minutes reading or doing math problems. (This is the student who often really agitates the teacher, who assumes that it's a matter of choice rather than a result of the child's disability or cognitive deficits such as ADHD or depression.)

Overall if your child is having problems with excessive time spend at the computer gaming, has become isolated and seems non-compliant when asked to get off the computer: get professional help. There seems to be a strong relationship between pathological gaming and psychological problems such as impulsivity, depression, anxiety, social isolation and poor academic performance. You may have difficulty directly addressing the gaming at first, but working on these other areas may very well help.  A psychologist with expertise in diagnosis and treatment of these disorders can help you set up a home program to teach skills necessary to disengage from the video game, address irrational thinking that comes with anxiety and depression, teach social skills and skills to reduce anxiety and finally develop a positive sup[port plan to address issues relating to learning difficulties.

Feel free to contact my office or contact the British columbia Psychological Association to locate an expert near you.