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College Students and Mental Health: Part 3, What Parents Can DoRob Danzman, MS, NCC, LCMHC
With our college kids home for winter break, we have a chance to observe how they spend their free time. If you have a “gamer,” you're probably used to them spending a lot of time playing video or online games. What you might not have been prepared for is how something that was a past-time back in high school has, since they left for college, become a problem.
Maybe even an addiction.
The World Health Organization recently announced that its International Classification of Diseases in 2018 will add "gaming disorder" in the mental health category. Since 2016, the American Psychiatric Association has identified internet gaming disorder as a new potential disorder. In many professional circles and publications, it is referred to and treated as an addiction. Whatever we call it, from a practical point of view as parents and guardians, we recognize a problem when we see it negatively impacting our children’s performance, relationships and overall functioning.
We already know that the entire generation spends lots of time online. In a survey of 27,000 first-year college students by the NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement), more than a third of males and a fourth of females reported playing online games more than 16 hours per week when they were in high school. With no parental intervention, surrounded by other students and immersed in a college gaming culture, they are likely to increase their gaming time in college.
When your student is on campus, you can’t know how much time they spend studying compared to the hours alone in the dorm room playing online games. So now’s the time to check in with your student gamer. If they struggled academically first semester, or came home appearing to suffer from poor sleep and/or nutrition — if you detect signs of depression or even substance abuse — you want to jump on it while you can talk face to face.
As with any addiction, it’s important to know the warning signs and be willing to address the problem when discovered. Doing so may prevent a downward spiral: failing grades, academic probation, dropping out of school.
A gaming disorder may point to another underlying mental health issue, such as depression. Talk frankly with your student about what you observe. They need to recognize the problems their gaming is creating in their life before they will be open to seeking help.
You can start by contacting the health and counseling centers at your student’s college to find out what addiction support services they offer. Your family doctor can guide you to local therapists experienced in internet addictions.
Parents can also find information and resources online. A few examples: addictionresource.com/addiction/video-game-addiction, www.screenagersmovie.com/internet-addiction, virtual-addiction.com/about-us, and www.netaddictionrecovery.com/index.php.
We offer these websites for your information only and do not endorse any of the programs or providers.
If currently you strictly regulate your high school student's internet use, there could be a self-control problem in college. Be proactive now:
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