All you need to know about the effects of online gaming on teenagers

  • Awareness
  • 18/11/2019
  • Portuguese Safer Internet Centre

In September 2019, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the Portuguese Safer Internet Centre (SIC) participated in a round table on addictive behaviours on the topic "Game and screen – Interaction and hazards". 

Several questions related to online gaming were explored, from their contextualisation, parents' concerns, characterisation of the various types of video games and potentialities and risks associated with gaming.

To contextualise the potential risks, the topic of excessive use of the internet and possible addiction was introduced. In this sense, the following symptoms associated with video game addiction disorder were introduced:

  1. excessive worrying about online video games;
  2. abstinence symptoms when the video game is removed;
  3. absence of tolerance when not carrying out the activity;
  4. unsuccessful attempts at gaming;
  5. loss of interest in old hobbies or entertainment;
  6. continuous and excessive use of online video games, even knowing the risks;
  7. manipulation of relatives and/or therapists, in relation to the time spent gaming;
  8. use of online video games to avoid or relieve negative moods;
  9. and disinvestment or loss of meaningful relationships, employment, career and/or education opportunities.

Newspapers headlines in Portugal about the side-effects of online gaming

However, the symptoms cannot be self-diagnosed and should always be confirmed by a healthcare professional. Most people who play video games do not have an addiction disorder, just as most people who drink alcohol are not addicts. However, under certain circumstances, excessive use can lead to adverse effects.

It is important to remember that, as with other non-chemical additions, the cause is not the activity itself, but the overuse behaviour that occurs due to psychological needs that are not fulfilled in the subject's life. In other words, feelings such as lack of competences, freedom, autonomy, social relations and, consequently, profound unhappiness, lead to an inappropriate use of online gaming and represent a mechanism to escape real life.

In order not to demonise this activity, the advantages of video games were mentioned. The real benefits of gaming only arise when the activity is balanced, and when the player does not neglect other equally important areas of life.

The advantages of video games can first consist in cognitive benefits, such as:

  • improved attention span (the ability to detect objects in a field of distraction or reduced impulsiveness);
  • improved vision (given the differences in contrast detected);
  • and improved executive functioning (the ability to perform more than one task at a time, increased mental flexibility, prevention of cognitive decline due to age, improved problem-solving skills).

Video games also provide emotional benefits, as they awaken emotions that help shape moods. It is known that playing one's favourite video game improves the mood and increases positive feelings. In addition, through video games, players enjoy social benefits that are expressed through various social skills, such as cooperation, which is later used in external relations.

For parents attending the initiative, a set of tips was presented to help them deal with the online gaming activity of their children:

  1. Talk about the world of video games, experience playing and accompany youngsters to face-to-face video game events, such as the Lisbon Game Week
  2. Negotiate in an adapted and flexible way the rules and routines
  3. Define clear consequences if the rules are or are not followed
  4. Ensure that there is communication
  5. When purchasing a video game, be aware of the PEGI rating
  6. Get regular feedback from your child's school on their behaviour, school results and social life
  7. In case of doubt or if you identify risk behaviours with online gaming, contact a specialised health professional

Some positive aspects of the evaluation carried out by the organiser were highlighted, from the project, operation, debates and contents of the exhibition, for which the Portuguese SIC made its resources on online gaming available at https://www.internetsegura.pt/flyers:

  • Dicionário de um Gaming or "Gaming dictionary";
  • and Guia para Pais - Mundo dos Videojogos, Riscos e Benefícios or "Parents' guide on videogames, risks and benefits".

Find out more information about the work of the Portuguese Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.


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