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Woodbury Psychiatrist Sees Gaming Addiction at Root of Much Teen Angst

Written By: Jeremy Olson| Oct. 23, 2015

Internet gaming disorder isn’t a diagnosis yet; it’s just a footnote for future consideration in the DSM-V, the diagnostic handbook for psychiatrists.

But more and more, as Dr. Shalene Kennedy traces what prompted a teenager to slam a door or put a fist through a wall, the flash point was a parent’s demand to shut off a video game.

“It’s always been a little bit tough to get kids to come in from playing kickball with their friends. And no teenage girl really wants to get off the phone,” said Kennedy, a Woodbury child psychiatrist. “But the level of intensity that this brings with it really is creating quite a problem for families.”

Kennedy sees a double-whammy: Success in video games can trigger pleasure centers in the brain that make gamers want to play more. Violent or first-person shooter games also condition players to react with hostility if challenged.

“Your brain doesn’t know the difference, whether it’s in war in Vietnam or whether its playing ‘Call of Duty,’ after you’ve played for a while,” she said. “[The game is] wiring the brain for combat, essentially. So what happens to these kids who are playing ‘Call of Duty,’ who are conditioned to respond quickly and aggressively? What happens when they get upset, when you try to take them off the game? They respond quickly, aggressively.”

A forum on the topic is taking place at 4:30 p.m. Monday at Kennedy’s Aris Clinic, an outpatient center for teen mental health and behavior disorders.

Managing addictive gaming behaviors can be tricky. Banning technology isn’t reasonable when students need laptops for school. Setting limits based on time might be a recipe for trouble if a teenager is playing a multiplayer game with an uncertain end. Setting the total number of rounds, levels or games might be a more peaceful alternative, Kennedy suggested.

Today’s teens are the “first generation plugged in essentially from birth,” Kennedy said. Parents should know that certain games hold more potential for addiction, and certain kids are more predisposed to addiction.

“From what we’ve seen, clinically, there is a huge difference between playing FIFA and being able to get off it,” she said, “vs. playing a first-person shooter game.”