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The Increasing Danger of Addiction to Video Games in Children

The extraordinary increase in the use of video games by children results in their becoming a danger not only to their health but also to their quality of life. In recent years, video games have become one of the most popular forms of entertainment for children and teens worldwide. They are now a serious form of addiction for many children that concerns not only parents, but also health and school authorities.

It is estimated that between 5 and 8 percent of children and teens are addicted to this form of entertainment. In recent days, the World Health Organization (WHO) has categorized video game addiction as a mental health disorder, an opinion that is not shared by all experts on these games.

One of the conditions that make their use attractive for children is that they can be practiced with very few elements, unlike more traditional games. At the same time, they allow children to have an escape from the difficulties and demands of the real world.

One could add to these factors the attraction of establishing social connections, the rewards of continued play, and a carefully developed sense of gradual accomplishment based on well-known principles of psychological reinforcement.

Addiction to video games can have serious health effects on children. They can lead to visual and postural problems, poor eating and sleeping habits, social isolation, and anger and aggressive behavior that can be dangerous to others when asked to stop playing. Children may also lose friends who are non-gamers.

Addicted children can also become anxious and depressed, leading them to social isolation, low self-esteem, poor school attendance and failing school grades. Although excessive gaming can occur independently of other problems, it can also represent a child s response to other underlying situations, such as poor communication with their parents or with other children, anxiety and depression.

To limit the negative effects of video games, parents can establish a set of rules such as: limiting the amount of time when children can play; prohibiting them from playing until they have fulfilled their responsibilities both at home and in school; making sure that children understand that playing games is not a right they have, but that it is an earned privilege; prohibiting games that parents consider can be dangerous to their children s health; using by parents of “Parental Control” settings that are now included in almost all video game devices; keeping game and consoles out of children s bedrooms where parents can more easily control their use; and prohibiting children from watching games with disturbingly violent themes.

It is the parent’s responsibility to limit their children s access to video games and computers, and their recommendations to their children about their use should be strictly enforced. The children s health and quality of life is at stake.

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Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

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