Screenagers in love: Adolescent screen time, content, and context

In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocated the ‘2×2’ screen time guidelines to parents that their children should be restricted to no more than 2 hours of screen time a day and that children under 2 years of age should not be exposed to any screen time at all. Not only is this unworkable in today’s multi-media world but the guidelines are not based on scientific evidence. Thankfully, the AAP have revised their guidelines in the light of how today’s children actually engage with screen-based interactive technologies. For me, the issue is not about the amount of screen time but is about the content and the context of screen use. I have three ‘screenagers’ (i.e., children often referred to as ‘digital natives’ who have never known a world without the internet, mobile phones and interactive television) who all – like me – spend a disproportionate amount of their everyday lives on front of a screen for both work/educational and leisure purposes. Engaging in a lot of screen-based activities is not inherently negative – it’s simply a case of doing things differently than we did 20 years ago.

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One online activity that has received a lot of criticism in the media is the playing of online videogames. However there is now a wealth of research which shows that video games can be put to educational and therapeutic uses, as well as many studies which reveal how playing video games can improve reaction times and hand-eye co-ordination. Their interactivity can stimulate learning, allowing individuals to experience novelty, curiosity and challenge that stimulates learning. Although I have published many studies concerning online gaming addiction, there is little empirical evidence that moderate gaming has any negative effects whatsoever. In fact, many excessive players experience detrimental effects.

Over the past 15 years I have spent time researching the excessive playing of online videogames like Everquest and World of Warcraft (WoW). Online gaming involves multiple reinforcements in that different features might be differently rewarding to different people. In video games more generally, the rewards might be intrinsic (e.g. improving your highest score, beating your friend’s high score, getting your name on the “hall of fame”, mastering the game) or extrinsic (e.g. peer admiration).

In online gaming, there is no end to the game and there is the potential for gamers to play endlessly. This can be immensely rewarding and psychologically engrossing. For a small minority of people, this may lead to addiction where online gaming compromises everything else in their lives. However, playing excessively doesn’t necessarily make someone an addict. A few years ago in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, I published two case study accounts of two males who claimed that they were gaming for up to 80 hours a week. They were behaviourally identical in terms of their game playing, but very different in terms of their psychological motivation to play.

The first case was an unemployed single 21-year old male. His favourite online game was World of Warcraft and that since leaving university he had spent an average of 10 to 14 hours a day playing WoW. He claimed that WoW had a positive influence in his life and that most of his social life was online and that it increased his self-esteem. He also argued that he had no other commitments and that he had the time and the flexibility to play WoW for long stretches. Gaming provided a daily routine when there was little else going on. There were no negative detrimental effects in his life. When he got a job and a girlfriend, his playing all but stopped.

The second case was 38-year old male, a financial accountant, married and had two children. He told me that over the previous 18 months, his online playing of Everquest had gone from about 3-4 hours of playing every evening to playing up to 14 hours a day. He claimed that his relationship was breaking down, that he was spending little time with his children, and that he constantly rang in sick to work so that he could spend the day playing online games. He had tried to quit playing on a number of occasions but could not go more than a few days before he experienced “an irresistible urge” to play again – even when his wife threatened to leave him.

Giving up online gaming was worse than giving up smoking and that he was “extremely moody, anxious, depressed and irritable” if he was unable to play online. Things got even worse. He was fired from his job for being unreliable and unproductive (although his employers were totally unaware of his gaming behaviour). As a result of losing his job, his wife also left him. This led to him “playing all day, every day”. It was a vicious circle in that his excessive online gaming was causing all his problems yet the only way he felt he could alleviate his mood state and forget about all of life’s stresses was to play online games even more.

I argued that only the second man appeared to be genuinely addicted to online gaming but that the first man wasn’t. I based this on the context and consequences of his excessive play. Online gaming addiction should be characterized by the extent to which excessive gaming impacts negatively on other areas of the gamers’ lives rather than the amount of time spent playing. For me, an activity cannot be described as an addiction if there are few (or no) negative consequences in the player’s life even if the gamer is playing up to 14 hours a day. The difference between a healthy enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life, addictions take away from it.

Every week I receive emails from parents claiming that their sons are addicted to playing online games and that their daughters are addicted to social media. When I ask them why they think this is the case, they almost all reply “because they spend most of their leisure time in front of a screen”. This is simply a case of parents pathologising their children’s behaviour because they think what they are doing is “a waste of time”. I always ask parents the same three things in relation to their child’s screen use. Does it affect their schoolwork? Does it affect their physical education? Does it affect their peer development and interaction? Usually parents say that none of these things are affected so if that is the case, there is little to worry about when it comes to screen time. Parents also have to bear in mind that this is how today’s children live their lives. Parents need to realise that excessive screen time doesn’t always have negative consequences and that the content and context of their child’s screen use is more important than the amount of screen time.

(Please note: This article is an extended version of an article that was originally published by the London School of Economics’ Media Policy Project)

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online video gaming: What should educational psychologists know? Educational Psychology in Practice, 26(1), 35-40.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of context in online gaming excess and addiction: Some case study evidence. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 119-125.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent gambling via social networking sites: A brief overview. Education and Health, 31, 84-87.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013) Social networking addiction: Emerging themes and issues. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 4: e118. doi: 10.4172/2155-6105.1000e118.

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Child and adolescent social gaming: What are the issues of concern? Education and Health, 32, 9-12.

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Gaming addiction in adolescence (revisited). Education and Health, 32, 125-129.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Social networking addiction: An overview of preliminary findings. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.119-141). New York: Elsevier.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Online social networking and addiction: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gaming addiction: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 278-296.

Lopez-Fernandez, O., Honrubia-Serrano, M.L., Baguley, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Pathological video game playing in Spanish and British adolescents: Towards the Internet Gaming Disorder symptomatology. Computers in Human Behavior, 41, 304–312.

Pápay, O., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D., Nagygyörgy, K., Farkas, J. Kökönyei, G., Felvinczi, K., Oláh, A., Elekes, Z., Demetrovics, Z. (2013). Psychometric properties of the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire Short-Form (POGQ-SF) and prevalence of problematic online gaming in a national sample of adolescents. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16, 340-348.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on September 15, 2017, in Addiction, Adolescence, Case Studies, Compulsion, Cyberpsychology, Gender differences, I.T., Internet addiction, Online addictions, Online gaming, Psychology, Social Networking, Technological addiction, Technology, Uncategorized, Video game addiction, Video games and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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