Sunday, March 4, 2012

Social Consequences of Teen Gaming Addiction: Part I

Imagine this scenario: 15-year-old Jeff's cell phone rings. The call is from a school friend who wants to hang out. It's Friday night. Instead of answering, Jeff thinks to himself: "I'll call him as soon as I finish this level of the game." One hour passes. Two hours. Three hours. The call is never returned or even acknolwedged.

Teens addicted to gaming encounter situations like this all the time, situations in which they have to choose whether to interact with the real world or continue living in their fantasy world. As time goes on, the real world rarely wins.

Addicted gamers not only ignore real-life relationships, but they also talk so much about gaming -- to the exclusion of everything else -- that friends lose interest in being friends. Many compulsive gamers cannot or will not engage in real world conversations or be a source of support or encouragement to friends and family. Because their friends talk about other subjects, they begin to feel left out, which in turn causes them to feel irritated or offended. It doesn't occur to gaming addicts that they have chosen to be left out by devoting all their time to gaming.

The lack of social interaction that results from compulsive gaming can have long-term social and developmental consequences. An addicted teen may never develop effective social skills, which can stifle the ability to create and maintain healthy relationships in college and beyond. Suddenly a gamer is 21 but has the social skills of a 15-year-old. He does not know how to make friends, talk to girls, or just "hang out" and enjoy people's company. The social anxiety and lack of skills created by the isolation of compulsive gaming feeds the addiction. The gaming addict will likely retreat to his online world where relationships are established and easier to negotiate.

Part II coming soon.

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