Video gaming: When does a hobby become unhealthy?

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CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) – Fifteen-year-old Cooper is a busy teen, balancing school, soccer, and gaming.

“I’ve been playing video games almost my entire life, and that’s what I love doing and what I’m good at,” he said.

He’s good enough to build his bank account.

“You can make money off of it. You are making an impression on the world because people around the world can see you. People in Europe have seen my clips, asking to play with me,” he said.

Cooper’s game of choice is Fornite. He shares his expertise with over 90,000 followers. With parental permission, he spends four hours a day gaming.

“It’s been very misunderstood as a sport because of all the components and moving parts of it, ” said Christine Smith, Cooper’s mom.

But when does gaming become a problem? Steve Kuniak is an assistant professor of counseling at Messiah College. He’s also into e-sports, and he says only a small percentage of gamers become addicted.

“I tend to look at it as more problematic gaming, and then we look to see what we could do differently or what boundaries we could put in place to curb that, and if they continue, that is something more like an addiction,” Kuniak said.

Kuniak says parents need to keep an eye on three behavior changes: obsessiveness, aggressiveness manifesting in real life, and age-inappropriate social conduct.

Cooper’s parents monitor his activities.

“I watch for language. We’ve had those conversations. If these many people are watching, you have to set a good example,” his mother said. “We spend a little bit of time talking about what Cooper does and how he schedules his time. He does balance school. He is a student-athlete.”

“The more I watched and got involved and saw what he was doing, he reached out across the world,” father Brian Smith said.

“I think games have a way of teaching us how to set goals and objectives and complete tasks, and I think those are great transferable skills,” Kuniak said.

The Smiths say gaming is beneficial to Cooper.

“Credit to our son who said I want to show you and I want to teach you and I have nothing to hide. It was a little humbling to say I don’t know how to do this, but we’re going to figure it out with you and watch you,” Smith said.

Cooper has signed a deal with Susquehanna E-sports as a professional influencer and is now part of its streaming team.

Kuniak says parents should game with their children and use the parental controls when needed. He has more tips at www.experiencepts.org.

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