Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a new diagnosis for the ICD-11 Diagnosis Manual (International Classification of Diseases). he new diagnosis is called “Gaming Disorder.” According to WHO, a Gaming Disorder is a “pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”
We’ve all pretty much known that video game use has been on the rise the past 20 years, and occasionally we hear stories in the news or listen to friends and family members complain that their kids play too long. All of them say the same things. “I wish my kid would get outside more.” “He needs to get a job.” “She needs to read a book.” “They need less time on video games and more time in the real world.” All of these are said, yet parents don’t always do a great job limiting screen time, and often contribute by purchasing more games. I confess I enjoy playing video games and played often, to the chagrin of my family, but had learned to place my time and priorities in other places. I am also one of those parents who wished their kids played less and spent more time outdoors, all the while being an indoor dad myself.
As a counselor, I have also spoken with teens who play a lot of video games (or who constantly watch videos, movies, etc.). I’ve also spoken to married couples who complain that one of them is spending too much time online, watching TV, videos, on social media, or playing video games. Gaming Addiction is real, yet with the increase and portability of screens, I would want to lump all of these into a “Screen Addiction.” How long can you go without checking your e-mail, social media account, or watching a video or show? How long in a 24 hour period do you spend on a screen versus with people, tasks, work, devotions or other things? My guess is that a safe answer would be, “longer than I used to” or “more than I should.” I know I would answer this way.
Let me point out a few concerns with too much screen time (gaming, social, TV, etc.). I’m sure there are many more (and feel free to add some in the comments section), but I’ll start with just a few:
Focus on Self: While one’s attention is focused on the screen, family and relationships become less important. People become so entrenched in what they are doing, that any request or interruption by a family member is often met with moodiness and rudeness by the offending party. The only thing that matters when one is entrenched in screen time is self. The only things that matter is how far I get in a game, what others say about ME, giving MY input into online debates, finishing a TV series I need to watch, etc. For the Christ-follower, self is to be denied, yet when there is a focus on the screen, love for neighbors or family members does not happen (or happens little). When our constant focus is on self, we actually harm ourselves more than help. This love of self is really the heart behind the addiction and the need to submit to and engage with Christ becomes paramount in recovery. As long as love of self reigns, we will lose the fight with addictions.
Reality Shifted: While entrenched in screen time, one’s tasks, relationships, and responsibilities are often ignored, while the screen interests increase exponentially. Thoughts are constantly turning to game strategies, research (there are so many YouTube gamers with their own channels!), passion for politics, new on-line pseudo-relationships, fictional characters, life and death situations, etc. The here and now relationships, problems, responsibilities, and everyday life experiences are pushed aside. Whatever is on the screen becomes of greater importance and “reality” than experiencing real life, made up of real relationship joys and problems, real experiences filled with laughter and concerns. As a result, people have a hard time maturing, which happens through life experiences and relationships. Like drug & alcohol addicts, those addicted to screen time are stunted in their emotional maturity and coping skills learned through experience, trial and error.
Coping Skills Decrease: Since emotional maturity is stunted, people who are addicted struggle with coping in difficult situations. The only coping mechanism for hurt feelings, stress, problems in relationships, etc. is their addictions. Avoidance and escape are the coping mechanisms for screen addicts. People who cannot cope with life tend to get angrier often, get stressed easier, have more struggles in relationships, and overall have greater anxiety. According to the APA study on Stress in America, those who check their e-mails and phones regularly have a higher amount of stress in their lives than those who do not. The inability to cope well often leads to other mental health struggles (depression, anger, suicidal thinking), anxiety, etc.) and may eventually lead to some sort of crises in people’s lives.
While I would disagree with the WHO and the ICD in calling “Gaming Disorder” a “disease,” I would, however, apply Ed Welch’s definition of addiction and call it a “voluntary slavery.” While admitting that a chemical component is typically present in all addictions, and that addictions are difficult to change, there will always be a voluntary aspect as we all have a choice (even if it doesn’t feel that way). Even though there remains a “pull” towards returning to the screen (many of us have felt that in some way or another), we must take responsibility for changing. I like the term used in the “Stress in America” article calling for a “Digital Detox” for individuals and families when it comes to screen time. Unless we make some changes, we’ll continue to remain focused on ourselves, our realities will be “screen realities”, and we will not mature in our emotional health and coping skills.
Make the first step and reduce your time on the screen, take steps to love others and pay attention to their needs, and learn new ways of coping through life. You won’t regret it!
Fred Jacoby is the Founder and Director of Foundations Christian Counseling Services in Northeast, PA and Binghamton NY. For speaking services or to set up an appointment, contact us at info@ foundchristcounsel.org.