My College:
Health & Safety

Internet gaming and college students

Suzanne Shaffer

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.

When does "a lot" of gaming become "too much"?

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.

What are the signs of a gaming disorder?

  • A disrupted regular life pattern that may result in lack of sleep, change of diet, poor hygiene, and/or health problems.
  • Lowered interest in school achievement — skipping class, failing to study for exams, failing to even take exams. Unfortunately, you may not know this is happening until it’s too late. Ideally you establish a system of accountability before your student leaves for college — see the tips for high school parents below.
  • Loss of interest in any activity other than gaming. If your gaming student isn’t involved in campus life, it’s a red flag that they might be spending too much time online.
  • Justifying excessive gaming. “I don’t spend that much time online,” “It’s not as much as so-and-so,” “All my friends game,” etc.
  • Spending a lot of money on gaming transactions such as new games, expansion packs, micro-transactions, gaming downloads and computer upgrades.
  • Depression, stress or anxiety. The pressure to do well in the game can have a negative impact on the gamer.

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.

Where can you go for 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:, and

We offer these websites for your information only and do not endorse any of the programs or providers.

For parents of high school gamers

If currently you strictly regulate your high school student's internet use, there could be a self-control problem in college. Be proactive now:

  • Talk about the dangers of spending too much time online playing games.
  • Remind your student that they will be wholly responsible for putting their best effort into college, and for communicating with you about their progress and struggles.
  • Discuss how they can stay in control of their behavior and how they will manage their free time.
  • If your student's gaming is already problematic, don’t permit them to take a gaming console, large monitor or games to campus.
  • Don’t fund their gaming habit by paying for subscriptions. Set limits on their data plan to limit large gaming downloads.
  • Establish accountability and consider accountability software to help monitor their gaming time.
  • Watch “Screenagers” together and have your child take an Internet Addiction Test.


Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
Find Your University
  • Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox every week.

    We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy and terms for more info.

  • Connect

    Don't Miss Out!

    Get engaging stories and helpful information all year long. Join our college parent newsletter!