It’s no surprise that during lockdown that our screen time has increased, with our everyday tasks being moved online for the safety of everyone during COVID-19. However, it has been reported that this safety precaution may be welcoming in a new kind of danger - especially to young people.
Lack of social interaction has been for some, a new change to adapt to during a pandemic, and a lot of young people have turned to online gaming for that social interaction. While these games on the surface are seemingly innocent, there are many more sinister layers that we may not be aware of.
One issue that has worsened during lockdown is online gaming addiction, with the issue said to be getting so bad that teenagers are playing for ‘up to 16 hours a day and having to seek professional help’. Of course, as with many things, gaming addiction was a problem before the pandemic but seems to have only worsened from the side effects of limited social interaction and isolation. With limited daily structure due to school being online, it can be easy to get lost spending hours and hours on the internet. A concern is that the more addicted children get to these games, the less time they will spend interacting with things outside of them, leading them to possibly becoming more withdrawn and isolated - which are both behaviours that have been shown to contribute and lead to depression.
Apart from your mental state potentially suffering as a response to social isolation and gaming addiction, there are also concerns coming from gambling within gaming: With 1 in 10 young people said to be getting into debt and another 31% of people having trouble tracking their spending when online gaming. Specifically, with the rise of Lootboxes being bought: A Lootbox is a mystery box gamers can purchase in exchange for a random selection of virtual items of ‘loot’. The increased screen time over the pandemic can be related to the increased temptation to buy Lootboxes. So as well as the risk of being isolated from their friends and family, they are also at risk of possibly racking up huge debts which could make it even more likely that they isolate themselves further. Lootboxes have been described as ‘predatory’ in UK Parliament, with the predatory nature of the Lootboxes coming from the purchasing systems used by various game companies, which withhold the long-term cost of the activity until the players are already financially committed.
Another growing concern on these platforms is also the rise of abusive and bullying behaviour online: It is said that one in two gamers will experience bullying on online platforms. While some of this behaviour may not affect every child, a child that is already isolated and lonely could be even more vulnerable and impacted by the effects this may have on one’s mental health.
While all this information is highly alarming, as a parent or guardian it is important to remember there is help available. Knowing the signs to look out for means you are better equipped to tackle these issues. Starting the conversation with a sympathetic ear and some understanding may be a good way to check-in. For more support and information head to https://parents.actionforchildren.org.uk/ for one on one confidential and professional support.