Note from the Editor: “I can’t get my child to stop playing World of Warcraft!” Every day, we hear from parents out there who are struggling with their kids’ “addiction” to video games. And on the news, each week brings more stories about kids (and adults) who have a seeming inability to control their gaming habits. What’s a parent to do? This week, our featured Guest Blogger Daniel Nguyen, editor of ALLtreatment.com, weighs in with some concrete tips that can help your game-obsessed child.
With laptops, game consoles, and handheld devices becoming easier to purchase, it has become commonplace for children to have their own personal electronics. This widespread availability has created the phenomenon of “video game addiction” among children and young adults. While it hasn’t yet been classified as a true addiction by the American Psychological Association (yet), some behaviors displayed by gamers — playing for hours on end, disinterest in doing anything else, including eating and sleeping, depression and lack of social connection because of excessive video game use — indicate that this is a very real issue for parents. But if your child likes gaming, it doesn’t mean that he is doomed to become addicted to games just because you bought him that Xbox or laptop he’s been pining for. If you feel that your child may be having difficulty controlling the time he spends playing games, or if you find yourself unable to entice him away from his computer or game console, here are some tips to try and curb what can quickly become a compulsive habit.
- Take the screens out of your child’s bedroom. Don’t let your children have a computer or television in their bedrooms. Keep those devices out in a public space. And position the monitors so you can always see what is on their screen. If they are too embarrassed to have you see what they are doing, then they probably shouldn’t be doing it, right?
- Make them earn game time. This teaches kids how to prioritize real-life activities over the game. Perhaps they need to do certain chores before they can play. Or finish their homework. Or put in practice time at the piano. Almost any activity will do as long as it shows your child that time with the game comes at the bottom of their to-do list. These games are designed to keep kids playing nonstop. Requiring them to put time aside to do other things will help them develop time-management skills.
- Try to help foster your child’s social life outside of the game. Video games are sometimes an escape for children who find it difficult to relate to those around them. If you feel this is the case, then you should find other ways for your child to productively socialize. Also, if their friends play online games with them, find out! It becomes harder to control your child’s impulses when they have all their friends waiting for them to log on and play.
- Don’t let the game become their primary reward system. Give them goals outside of the game that they need to achieve. Often, addictive games are so enticing because they reward players for meeting certain goals. However, these goals are always replaced with harder, more time-consuming goals, so the player is never quite “done” with the game. If children feel that they have more important goals to achieve than those laid out in the game, they will be less inclined to want to play all day.
As a last resort, I would suggest cutting your video game-obsessed child off from the game entirely. This is not generally something that would be wise to do if your child is heavily addicted, as making them stop cold-turkey can create more problems than it might solve. But sometimes you just have to shut off the offending behavior. If you can, wean your child off of the game using some of the tips above so they can gradually learn how to prioritize their time correctly.
Keep in mind that a game addiction is usually a sign of a greater underlying problem that your child is trying to distract himself from. Perhaps he is having trouble at school or church or even within the home. Do not rush to blame your child for the difficulties he may be facing. Instead, try to imagine what stresses he might be dealing with and work with him to find better ways to manage those issues. After all, children are not born with the skills to solve the problems of adolescence, and they certainly aren’t learning them from a video game. You need to be the one to step in and create clear boundaries and guidelines. And doing so with understanding and kindness can make all the difference.
Daniel Nguyen is an editor and blogger for AllTreatment.com, an addiction information resource and treatment center directory. He is passionately pursuing ways to make treatment and recovery more accessible to anyone struggling with addiction.