The new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was released earlier this spring. The DSM-V ignores the expanding epidemic of videogame addiction that has devastated our boys’ education for the last 15 years. Instead, it lists "internet addiction disorder" in the appendix as a "condition for further study."
The DSM listing is important in the United States because it provides legitimacy to mental disorders and some health insurance policies will have to cover treatment. But most of all, it tells society that this behavior is problematic and, similar to smoking, it redirects public opinion.
The first problem with the DSM is that it defines it as "internet addiction disorder," combining videogame addiction with many other internet activities including social networking, blogging, online shopping and viewing pornography. By lumping videogaming with other internet activities, it is easy to protest that it is neither a compulsion or disorder since "everyone does it."
But videogame addiction is a major problem for boys worldwide wherever they have access to videogames, whether online at a PC or handheld. That is why it should not be tied to the internet or computers. Videogames also come in play stations, consoles, handheld games and cell phones.
And it is called "gameboy" and not "gamegirl" for a reason. The wiring in many boys’ brains responds to the beeps and visual stimulation of videogames in a way that girls’ brains do not. In 2009, Douglas Gentile published a survey of American 8-to-18 year-olds and found 12 percent of boys were video game addicted, having at least six symptoms out of 11 (similar to the scale for gambling addiction that the DSM does recognize). Using the same criteria, only three percent of girls were videogame addicts. These videoaddicts reported a dramatic erosion in study, homework, and school involvement.
Yet the psychiatrists claim this correlation is not proof that video games cause a decline in academics. Perhaps boys who are not academic are attracted to video-games as a consequence. Gentile’s correlation did not prove causation.
But proof that videogames-cause-a-decline-in-academics was published in the February 2010 issue of Psychological Science. Robert Weis and Brittany C. Cerankosky of Denison University measured boys’ academic baseline achievement and surveyed their parents and teachers about the boys’ behavior. They then gave half of the group of boys playstation videogame units. Academic performance nosedived for the boys with videogames. The boys without videogames continued on with solid schoolwork. This nailed the cause-and-effect relationship. The DSM-V ignores this study.
"The Boy Problem" is the term for this decline in boys entering higher education throughout the developed world. Enrollments in universities in Asia, Europe and the Americas are often between 70 and 80 percent women. The secondary school dropout rate is much higher for boys as well. Many books have been written in the U.S. attributing this to the "feminization" of the classroom or other causes. But this problem is worldwide. It is boys who populate internet cafes or live online in their parent’s basement.
Education Week just published a survey of high school dropouts and of course failed to ask the right question. But if I apply the ratios from Gentile’s study to the U.S. dropout data, videogame addiction could account for nearly 4 million boys dropping out of school in the last 15 years. Other countries take this obvious drain on boys’ academics seriously. Only in the United States do we ignore our boys’ videogame addiction and swoon over their ability to navigate every new techno-gadget.
It will take another decade to cycle to a new DSM. When that time arrives, I have a new diagnosis that definitely deserves to be listed. It describes our cultural sickness that allows us to bless our next generation of boys who abandon life for cyberspace: Videogame Addiction Disorder Denial Syndrome.