Addiction & Dependence

For most children and young people, a passion for exciting video games is one hobby among many. However, some educators worry when their children hardly want to take their eyes off the screen and digital games seem to dominate everyday life. To get an initial impression of whether game use is a cause for concern, tests or behavioral observations can be used as a basis. The klicksafe checklist "Is my child at risk of digital addiction?" can help.

If you are concerned, you should first adapt the parenting rules and obtain further information. If you can't get any further on your own, professional advice can help.

At what point does a computer game addiction exist?

The ICD criteria catalog (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems) defines a wide range of diseases as a worldwide standard. In the meantime, computer game addiction can also be found here under the designation "Gaming Disorder". The ICD-11 catalog specifiesthree criteria for the diagnosis of a gaming disorder :

  1. Loss of control over gaming behavior: When individuals do not stop gaming even when an important deadline is looming or the situation seems inappropriate.
  2. Priority of gaming over other interests: When gamblers shut themselves off from the outside world and neglect friends, family, hobbies, or duties.
  3. Escalation of gambling behavior despite negative consequences: When gambling results in recognizably negative consequences in one or more areas of life, such as school, work, or health, or cannot be stopped despite personal distress.

The condition for a diagnosis is the fulfillment of the above-mentioned aspects over a period of at least one year, as well as a significant influence on the personal lifestyle. The episodic, sometimes also problematic fascination for a digital game is therefore not meant.

Tips for parents

To prevent addiction or limit excessive (not yet pathological) use, you can follow our general tips on screen time . Further tips for the prevention and intervention of a digital addiction can be found in the following list.

Tips for prevention

Even with younger children, you should set a time limit for consuming digital games. This framework can be gradually adjusted according to the child's age or stage of development. With older children, play times can also be discussed. Ultimately, children should learn to take responsibility for their lives and regulate their media use themselves.

A media usage agreement for the family or playtime accounts that your children can use have also proven successful in many cases.

Once agreements have been made, they should be binding on both sides. The consequences of non-compliance with agreements should also be negotiated and recorded together. In this way, compromises reached can become a guideline for dealing with media in the family, to which all family members adhere. Do not shy away from conflicts. Parents have the right to limit media consumption in a sensible way, even if this results in disputes. This gives adolescents a sense of security. Give reasons for prohibitions so that your child feels taken seriously and understands why you are setting limits.

Even if all other parents allow play, that doesn't mean you have to do the same. Listen to your gut and judge your child's competencies wisely. Can he or she responsibly handle the temptations without compromising other obligations? And what support does your son or daughter need from you?

To keep an eye on your children's playtimes, additional technical protection measures can be used, which are already available in some games, operating systems and game consoles. Depending on the operating system, appropriate settings can also be made or suitable apps installed for smartphones and tablets. However, such programs are not an all-round carefree package and still require accompaniment.

Take this opportunity to reflect on your own media behavior. You can be a role model for your child by the way you handle smartphone, TV and other media yourself. Encourage a conscious discussion of media consumption in the family: Keep a media diary together, in which times, screen activities, experiences or even feelings about gaming are noted.

Digital games are a part of children's and young people's lives, and they should have their place as a hobby. However, you should also ensure that your children pursue a wide range of leisure activities so that digital games and the Internet do not take on too much importance. Offer stimulation and alternatives to digital games to promote self-efficacy experiences in everyday life, e.g. in the form of joint activities or hobbies such as sports, music and meeting friends. However, these alternatives must be interesting and enjoyable for your child.

Tips for the intervention

Not every night played through is cause for concern. Pay attention to whether gaming leads to changes, e.g., in school performance, contact with friends, leisure activities, or sleeping and eating habits. If you find signs of this, it is important not to "demonize" digital games in a joint conversation. Many affected young people don't realize that their behavior is problematic and can't see the consequences. Make your child aware of your perception during the conversation and talk about the media offerings without reproaches and with a well-founded attitude. This is the only way to reach your child. And don't shy away from conflict with your child. Sometimes parents also have to clearly point out boundaries.

Look for the reasons for excessive consumption. What is your child missing in everyday life? What unmet wants and needs does he or she have? Where do worries and problems lie? Is there a lack of support and recognition and how can you specifically change this? Encourage and create recreational and employment opportunities in the family. Encourage the resumption of previously pursued hobbies. Activities that provide group experiences, such as team sports or educational programs in a youth center, are a useful counterbalance to virtual experiences.

If you have the impression that your child's game use is a cause for concern, you can use various tests or behavioral observations as a basis. However, these are only meant as suggestions to think about your child's usage behavior. Also use these materials to engage in conversation with your child. A joint, understanding discussion about media use is a first and important step.

If you conclude that your child is at high risk or already addicted, be sure to seek further information and professional help. Get support to get your child out of media addiction. Points of contact are, for example, addiction and family counseling, clinics or psychologists. Read the reports and experiences of other parents or those affected on Internet forums. This will help you understand and show you that you are not alone in this difficult situation.

Advice centers and sources of information

User contracts and further information
With the offer from klicksafe and Internet-ABC, parents and children can create a media user contract together online. The contract can be created in different design and rule templates for the two age groups 6-12 years and +12 years. For future editing, the contract can be saved and recalled at any time via a numerical code for adjustments. The Internet ABC provides a lot of information and tips on computer games (and other media) in the parents' area, including excessive gaming.

Professional association for media addiction
The Fachverband Medienabhängigkeit (Association for Media Dependence) is committed to creating a network of researchers and practitioners in the German-speaking region as part of a large-scale cooperation to deal with this new type of disease phenomenon. An overview of counseling centers in Germany can be found on the map under "Finding help".

Outpatient clinic for gambling addiction
The Sabine M. Grüsser-Sinopoli Outpatient Clinic for Gambling Addiction in Mainz offers group therapeutic treatment for the disorder "computer game or Internet addiction". The website also contains a checklist for parents and a self-test.

Number against sorrow
The counselors at the Nummer gegen Kummer child and youth hotline also know about the fascination and risks of computer and console games and will refer you to specialized agencies if necessary. The children's and young people's hotline offers anonymous and free telephone advice for children, young people and parents. Children and adolescents can also contact the em@il counseling the "Nummer gegen Kummer" (number against sorrow).
Children's and young people's hotline Tel.: 116 111, Mon. to Sat. from 2 - 8 p.m. and Mon., Wed. and Thurs. from 10 - 12 p.m.
Parents' hotline Tel.: 0800 - 111 0 550, Mon. to Fri. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tues. and Thurs. from 5 - 7 p.m.

Other counseling centers briefly presented

  • General online counseling service for adolescents andparents of the Bundeskonferenz für Erziehungsberatung e.V. (bke) (Federal Conference for Educational Counseling)
  • Contact is the addiction counseling for adolescents and young adults of the drug help Cologne.