Parents learn about challenges of understanding video games

By Lisa Stone - ReminderNews
South Windsor - posted Wed., Oct. 16, 2013
Presenter, Dr. Paul Weigle, gave some insight into the effects that video gaming can have on people. Photo by Lisa Stone.
Presenter, Dr. Paul Weigle, gave some insight into the effects that video gaming can have on people. Photo by Lisa Stone.

South Windsor Youth and Family Services recently sponsored an informational night about video gaming and the effects it has on the today's children and teens. The event took place at the Timothy Edwards Middle School on Oct. 10.

Paul Weigle, M.D., currently an adolescent psychiatrist at Natchaug Hospital, has spent a great deal of time studying the effects that video games have on the developing mind. Weigle also provides psychiatric care for children and teens at the Joshua Center Partial Hospital Programs in Mansfield and Old Saybrook and lends his expertise to Connecticut schools by way of psychiatric consultations.

According to Weigle, boys are much more likely to become addicted to video games than girls. “Currently, 8.5 percent of the United States' youths are addicted to video games,” said Weigle. “Of that, the rate of boys being addicted is two and a half times greater than that of girls. Research has shown that the typical video addict experiences low self-esteem, has poor social skills or is anti-social and doesn’t have a strong parental influence. These are factors that seem true to all countries, not just the United States.”

According to Weigle, Germany has the highest rate (12 percent) of video addiction. China has a 10-percent rate, Singapore 9 percent and South Korea and Taiwan are ranked at 8 percent. The greatest age group for this addiction is between ages 6 and 16, and Weigle said there are correlations to video addiction and drug addiction. “Many times, my patient will tell me that while they were getting high, they were playing video games,” said Weigle. “As the high got more intense, so did the gaming. I found this intriguing. After many years passed, over 85 percent of those patients were still addicted to gaming.”

The clinical studies that Weigle referred to seemed to point to the neurological receptor dopamine as one of the culprits for the addictive tendencies. These receptors in our brain pick up chemicals that make us experience feelings such as euphoria. This seems to be enhanced when the gamers play an interactive game through the Internet. When the player can experience not only the video game, but the voices of other people who are interacting during the game, this brings the experience to a much higher level of reality. The player begins to crave the feeling that they have while online with other players, he said, and it becomes more real to them.

Moderation was the watchword of the evening. If parents limit the amount of video game-playing, it is less likely to become a problem. “It is very important for the parent to be sure that the child is not giving up his or her social activities in exchange for playing the video games,” said Weigle. “There are definite signs to watch out for, but the best preventative measure would be to keep the child involved with family and friends and limit the use of the video games. I would recommend that each family spends at least four hours a week doing some family activities. Family togetherness is very important to the child’s development.”

Some symptoms to watch for include:

• the child plays longer than intended

• the child tries to cut down on game time, but that doesn’t seem to happen

• the video games take up most of the child’s time

• the gamer has a craving to play the video game, major obligations are not being met and the child gives up favorite activities in order to play the video games.

Weigle recommended that parents also watch for symptoms of unhappiness or impairment.

Sudheer Thirupathi attended the event because he has a teenage son who likes video games. “I want to hear what they have to say,” said Thirupathi. “My wife came with me so that we can both know what the best thing to do is. I am curious to see how my son fits in with all of this.”

South Windsor Youth and Family Services worked together with the South Windsor Special Services and the South Windsor school system to put on the program. “This event was set up so that parents will have a better understanding of video games," said Ginny Molleur, the parent educator for South Windsor Youth and Family Services. "It may not always be a problem, but the parents need to know what to watch for. We care about the quality of life that our residents are experiencing.”

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