Originally published in our Laudable Life advice column in the Lakelands Leader

Q: My 15-year-old son loves playing video games. It feels like thats all he ever wants to do and although we sometimes joke that hes addicted,I do worry that he spends too much time in games and not in real life. Can you really be addicted to video games? Are there specific signs I should look for? 

A: According to Dr. Kelli Dunlap, our Geek and Gamer Therapist, video games are an incredibly popular pastime, especially for teens; a 2017 Pew study found that 97% of teen boys and 83% of teen girls play video games. Video games, however, are a cross-generational phenomenon. On average, video game players are 33 years old; only 25% of gamers are over the age of 50. For the vast majority of players, gaming is a hobby that provides opportunities to overcome challenges, solve difficult but rewarding problems, connect socially with others in-person as well as digitally, and flex mental muscles related to creativity and strategy. In other words, video games are an enjoyable and meaningful hobby. Estimates vary, but research suggests around 1% of all gamers may experience problems regulating their gameplay. Signs that your son might need help are actually pretty straight forward: is he maintaining his grades? Hanging out with friends (and yes, online friends count)? Eating and sleeping like he always has? Basically, if things seem to be going along just as they always have in major areas related to health, hygiene, academics, and responsibilities, theres probably not anything to worry about.Dr. Dunlap suggests if there have been negative, noticeable shifts in these key areas, the first step would be to talk to him directly and then, if things dont get better or get worse, connect with professional services. Keep in mind that in many cases problematic gaming is a symptom of something deeper going on, and addressing potential underlying issues such as anxiety or depression often will alleviate gaming-related problems. More often the problem is not so much about addiction as it is about what boundaries the parents want to put around the childs gaming time and how they execute those boundaries with their child. Well get into this more next month.