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America's School Counselors Say Vaping, Gaming Are Tough Issues for Kids
  • Posted December 22, 2023

America's School Counselors Say Vaping, Gaming Are Tough Issues for Kids

Online gaming and vaping to the point of addiction have become widespread enough that most high school counselors regularly confront these behaviors in today's teens, a new survey shows.

Four out of five counselors say they've worked with at least one student during the past year who had struggled with problematic use of video games or e-cigarettes. However, few said they had the training necessary to adequately help their young charges, researchers found.

“School counselors are aware this is an issue, but it doesn't seem like we're providing the training as a profession so that they can address it,” said principal investigator Amanda Giordano, an associate professor in the University of Georgia's Mary Frances Early College of Education. “They're seeking their own continuing education and self-study to learn how to meet these needs.”

About 41% of teens say they've vaped nicotine at some point in their lives, while 26% say they have vaped marijuana, researchers said in background notes.

“These are really distressing numbers because as a society, we've worked hard to curb adolescent smoking of combustible tobacco products,” said Giordano. “Now with vaping, we see those numbers going back up.”

Gaming addiction is also a growing problem, marked by compulsive behavior, a loss of control and cravings, researchers said. It was officially recognized as a disorder by the World Health Organization in 2019.

For the study, researchers gathered data from 221 high school counselors in New York, Georgia and Washington.

About 81% of the counselors had worked with a student with either a gaming or vaping problem during the previous year, results show.

About 70% said that gaming issues increased during the pandemic, when kids were stuck at home with little to do.

“These numbers are very compelling as they confirm a large majority of high school counselors are going to address vaping and gaming in their work,” Giordano said.

But counselors expressed uncertainty when asked if they were prepared to help these kids.

Only 24% felt at least moderately competent addressing problematic gaming, while just 37% felt moderately prepared to counsel teens on vaping.

Further, the counselors themselves ranked other issues ahead of gaming and vaping as more concerning, including mental illness, poor academic performance, suicidal thoughts, cyberbullying and self-injury.

The study was published earlier this year in the International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling.

The diversity of these issues highlights the importance of school counselors and the critical role they play in helping teens, Giordano said.

Nevertheless, training programs need to add recognizing and responding to addictive behaviors to the curriculum, Giordano said.

“I firmly believe that all counselors are addictions counselors -- and school counselors are uniquely positioned to intervene early when it comes to addictive behaviors among youth,” Giordano said.

To confront gaming addiction, counselors should consider lessons aimed at educating students on the topic, teaching them warning signs of addictive behavior.

“Right now, a lot of people are discussing advocacy for children and youth about digital media use,” Giordano said. “I think the risk of gaming addiction is an important part of that conversation.”

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more on teen addiction.

SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, Dec. 20, 2023

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