When does too much gaming become a problem?

Teenage boy who is gripped by a video game and is spending too much time gaming

While we might have some awareness that too much gaming is bad for kids, it has long been unclear how much screen time is too much or unhealthy.

With the summer holidays fast approaching, it can often be challenging to fill your child’s time with meaningful and healthy activities. This can especially be the case when keeping them occupied becomes one of the key aims for each and every day.  

What’s more, the increase in free time for kids offers more opportunities for them to engage in unhealthy amounts of screen time, and for playing with friends online. In this blog, we explore the advantages and disadvantages of gaming and the relationship between gaming and mental health.  

How much screen time is too much?

It’s the easiest form of entertainment: sit back, pick up a controller and off you go. With a huge array of games on offer and opportunities to play others online, gaming has become a firm favourite for kids all over the country. However, while we might have some awareness that too much gaming is bad for kids, it has long been unclear how much screen time is too much  

Although gaming has been hugely popular ever since Nintendo exploded onto the scene in the 80s, in more recent years it has become even more immersive. Millions of players are online at any given time, and gaming YouTubers have huge numbers of followers. It has never been more tempting to want to spend every hour of the day on the PlayStation, and shun other activities as a result.

Teenage boy playing a video game late into the night

Online gaming has long been seen as a challenge for parents with alarmist stories appearing. However, if gaming is so dangerous then the pandemic would have seen a significant rise in this so-called addiction. But, it hasn’t.

For the very small number of kids who develop a gaming disorder it can be serious. As with all psychological problems early detection and treatment is important. However, for the vast majority of kids it’s not a disorder, but it may become unhealthy and need intervention.

In the UK the average child uses screens for around 6 hours per day. Those 6 hours will usually involve a mixture of mobile phone use, gaming and watching tv. 

Although there are no clear guidelines or hard and fast rules on how much screen time is too much, many parents set boundaries around the amount of time kids spend on tech. 

Some ways to do this could include having no phones at the dinner table, no gaming or phones allowed in bedrooms, or setting a limit of 1-2 hours of use of all tech per day. 

The effects of screen time can potentially cause concern for parents, research suggests that negative effects can be mitigated by spending time outdoors. Our colleagues at Dad.Info published an article on how time spent outdoors can mitigate the effects of too much screen time.  

Do’s & don’ts for parents

  • Don’t approach the issue with your child like their gaming is a problem. Your kids may get defensive and feel your only agenda is to stop them (… it usually is).
  • Take the time to find out what they like about the games.
  • Don’t look at gaming as all negative- remember how online life was incredibly important during the pandemic.
  • Don’t assume this is all about being on their own or isolating. Most games are social now, played between kids who know each other in real life. If your child is playing with friends and you take away their games, you are actually taking away contact with their real-world mates.

Benefits of gaming and being online

A child looking tired whilst playing video games online has spent too much time gaming

Our kids’ online lives can be worrying when we come across negative news stories. However, it’s important to remember the benefits that being online has, such as:

  • Employment and education, using computers are essential in today’s world
  • Neurological growth- whilst some believe that being online ‘rots’ your brain, it usually enhances it
  • It is being utilised in medicine in pain management to reduce the opiate use in serious injury such as burns
  • Developing friendships- it’s one of the primary ways kids make and cement real-world friendships and this is particularly true for boys

Signs that gaming is becoming a problem

  • Consistent sleep deprivation due to gaming
  • Reduction in self-care and prioritising gaming
  • Not managing interactions and actually replacing gaming ones for real world ones
  • Not having any other interests outside of gaming and online activities

The best approach is always to talk to your child. One way to manage things more effectively may be to limit their screen time to an hour or two a day. Ensure that there is plenty of time spent doing other activities such as sports, clubs or hobbies.

What to do if your child becomes obsessed

If you see your child withdrawing into their online world, not wanting to take part in other activities or being aggressive, it may be time to seek professional help. The gaming use may be a symptom of another issue such as bullying. Always seek help if you are concerned.

Our Spurgeons counsellors work one to one with children in our centres, online and in primary and secondary schools throughout the South East. 

We also provide parenting support for families with significant challenges such as supporting those with additional needs. We deliver much of this work through five town-wide family hubs in partnership with schools and our own preschool family hubs. Learn more about our Children’s Counselling services. 

Related articles from Spurgeons

View all
Parenting Tips
6+ tips and strategies for parenting with anxiety
A mother relaxing on a sofa, taking time to manage her anxiety
6+ tips and strategies for parenting with anxiety
Parenting Tips
What is sibling rivalry?
Three young brothers, set aside their sibling rivalry, to pose for a photo in which they appear well-behaved.
What is sibling rivalry?
Parenting Tips
5 Top Tips for Positive Parenting
A Mother and daughter hugging
5 Top Tips for Positive Parenting