Is My Son Addicted to Video Games?

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 051 · Duration: 00:16:31

Is My Son Addicted to Video Games?

Teenagers are playing video games more than ever and addiction is a real concern.

Regina, from Cleveland Ohio writes:

Is My Son Addicted to Video Games?My 15 year old son loves to play video games. He’s smart and school comes easily to him so he doesn’t have to work hard to get A’s and B’s. So he finishes his work at school or quickly after school and then plays video games the rest of the time. He participates in some activities, marching band and tennis, but he doesn’t have a ton of friends, and the ones he does have, play video games. Sometimes they play online together and when they are together, they mostly talk about games. They even watch videos of other people playing games. My husband thinks it’s just a phase and that he needs it to keep friends. I’d like to see him doing other things. Is this healthy? How do I know if this is an addiction?

Those are excellent and important questions Regina. I’m hearing from parents with those concerns a ton these days, and clearly it’s something we need to look at.

Kids today are growing up with video game playing as a normal and common part of their lives. They wait anxiously for the latest and greatest upgrades to the games and the hardware and it seems the improvements rarely disappoint. I’m seeing many parents, honestly only Dads, who grew up playing video games and have that as part of their recreational lives too.

And, because kids are playing games, other kids will want to play as a way to connect with their peers. Then they have the same experiences and shared experiences to talk about. So there is no denying it, video gaming is an integral part of recreational life in western and in many other cultures as well.

Video Games & Societal Interaction

When I was a kid growing up, the only screen was on a TV and it was entertaining and enjoyable, but that was about it. It wasn’t social and there was no skill involved. My parents put limits on it and I could watch my favorite half-hour sit-com after my homework was done and more on week-end nights if I didn’t have any other activity.

With video games, it’s more confusing. There is a social element to the game, and the player is active, building skills and being rewarded for reaching new levels. On the down side of course, they’re not getting exercise or fresh air, the socializing is not face-to-face, and they’re staring at a screen. Even more concerning is that the game can be rewarding in a way that’s a lot harder to find in real life. Our kids can enter a make-believe world and become a powerful, successful character in a way that does not happen so easily in real life. Also, while there are regular failures in the game, success can be just around the corner and the anticipation of success comes with a powerful dopamine reward and this drives the player, particularly teenagers who have enhanced dopamine release, to keep playing and looking for success.

This is what creates the potential for addiction. It’s a place where kids who are struggling with how to be socially successful and connect with peers, can have that. It can be very rewarding and rewards can be frequent, powerful and compelling.

So, our kids are doing an activity that is a lot of fun, it connects them with peers, it’s rewarding, and they can be successful. What’s wrong with that?

When Gaming Interferes With Life

Well, if they are engaged in gaming to the exclusion of other activities including physical activities, homework, home responsibilities, interacting with family, art, music, reading, maybe it is a problem.

If teens are engaged in gaming to the exclusion of other activities including physical activities, homework, home responsibilities, interacting with family, art, music, reading, etc: gaming may be a problem.Click To Tweet

We want our kids to enjoy engaging in all those activities, and once a kid is hooked on the powerful, frequent reward system that gaming offers, the slower reward system of real life can feel like a let down and they’re going to want to go back to the gaming.

If your kids are playing online games, are they not playing cards with their siblings, or battle ship, or drawing, or reading, or practicing the guitar, or… When my younger brother was 7 or 8 and I was 13 or 14, on weekend mornings we’d play with the tape recorder recording at slow speed and playing it back at high speed. That way we’d sound like the “chipmunks.” That’s right, Alvin and the Chipmunks started as a fun gimmicky pop group for us teenyboppers in the early 60’s or so. Anyway, that’s a long way to say, if I were playing video games, my poor younger brother would have been ignored for long periods of time and left to entertain himself, and we wouldn’t have developed that bonding play activity that gives me fond memories today.

Setting Limits

At the end of the day, parents are going to need to make a choice about supporting their kids in playing video games. If you choose to go ahead and support it, please, do so with limits. Remember, children and teens setting limits with video games for themselves is tough, because the games keep inviting you to do more. Once again, when I was growing up and TV was our screen entertainment, the only device to watch it on was the TV and the show had a beginning time and an ending time. Now, kids can watch shows, see movies, play games, and engage in social media on any device at-will, 24/7. It requires a lot more personal limit setting skills to keep from becoming sucked in to games, social media, or any other online activity. So, start early and make sure that your son or daughter is engaged in lots of other more positive activities. Make sure they understand the inherent dangers of online activity including social media and gaming, and know to limit their involvement.

Make sure your teen understands the inherent dangers of online activity, including social media and gaming, and know to limit their involvement.Click To Tweet

When Does Gaming Become An Addiction?

Regina, to answer your question about addiction more directly, if your teenager is choosing video gaming over virtually anything else, if their involvement in other social activities is going down, academics are going down, if their mood is going down. You may very well have an addicted kid or a kid on the way to addiction on your hands.

It sounds like your son is really academically gifted, but he’s not investing in school up to his potential. He barely does any work and he get’s A’s and B’s. Is he taking the right level of classes? Are there some advanced projects he could become involved in? I’d be concerned that he isn’t being challenged or challenging himself. I do not recommend that a 15-year-old play video games for hours a night. A week-end night with friends, sure, but every night for hours? Absolutely not.

Does he practice his band instrument even when there isn’t marching band practice? Does he play tennis in the off-season? Is he getting regular exercise and developing himself physically? Is he involved with the family: cooking, cleaning or helping a sibling with their homework?

Here are some things to think about. If they obsess about playing and only do their responsibilities so they can play their games, and the quality & the joy of learning or satisfaction of doing a good job is lost on them, addiction may very well be an issue.

If they can no longer enjoy the real world and only want to participate in the virtual world, that’s addiction.

If your teen can no longer enjoy the real world and only want to participate in the virtual world, that’s addiction.Click To Tweet

An Action To Ending The Addiction

I remember one family where the game playing was everything to the kid and the parents were concerned that if they took it away, he’d have a complete breakdown because that’s the only thing that made him happy. With my guidance, they turned off the internet and, after a huge fit, he connected with friends little by little. Eventually, he even got a girlfriend and started wanting to do better in school and he wanted to look and act better as well.

If your kid says something like:

“Don’t take my gaming away, that’s how I deal with my anxiety.”

Or: “That’s my anti-depressant.”

Or: “It’s better than smoking pot, isn’t it?”

Those are all signs that the gaming has taken on too much importance.

Here is a basic approach to intervening when your kid is become obsessed with video gaming. Remember, the goal is for them to learn to self-regulate.

For this exercise, I’ll call your son Bo.

Bo, there are some concerns I have that I want to talk with you about. First of all, I want you to know I think you’re a great kid, I know you are smart and capable and generally responsible. You’re respectful and pretty much do what you need to do. I’m proud of you.

I do have a few concerns and think I may not have been giving you enough guidance and limits for you to grow yourself up to your ability. School comes easily to you and while you do your work, you don’t do your best or challenge yourself enough.

I know when we said you had to do a sport, you chose tennis, but tennis is a short season and I don’t see you doing anything else physical beyond PE. So, you’re not developing yourself physically the way you should. I’m glad you play the clarinet in the marching band, but I don’t see you expanding on that. You could be moving on to saxophone and learning jazz or something else.

You’re 15 now and it seems you have a lot of free time, and it all goes into video games. As I’m sure you know, video gaming can be quite addicting and it can take over a person’s life. While you might not be a major game addict, you are lacking balance in your life; you’re lacking investment in yourself. I want to see you develop some balance and some goals to achieve it. I want you to set some educational and learning goals as well as some personal goals. And I want to see you gaming a heck of a lot less.

And then, Regina, follow it up with another meeting and get some things written down.

Also, you’re going to need to be willing to turn off the Wi-Fi at some point, not with animosity, simply as a matter of family health. There will be complaints and maybe anger and drama, but stay positive, set the standards, and others will follow.

A Challenge To All Parents

So listeners, here is our challenge today, and it’s a big one. Our kids are growing up in a world where computers, other devices and the internet have taken on a level of importance that’s quite profound. Very often, it’s how they get and complete their assignments. We use it for work. It’s how we communicate with each other. It’s how we listen to music and how we access entertainment. It’s how I can have this conversation with you. Because our kids can access virtually anything on any device, we can’t easily monitor them all day every day.

If we come down heavy on them to restrict their online activity, we may just be inviting a control battle. The goal is to support and guide them towards self-investment and balance. Yes, we will need to set some standards and limits along the way, but let’s keep it positive and invite our kids into the solution, then they’ll be invested, and then they’ll learn.

We need to teach using computers and the internet like we need to teach healthy eating. We are going to need to eat all our lives; are we going to eat in a healthy or an unhealthy way? ?The same goes with computers and the internet. We are going to need to use it often, and we’ll want to use it often. Are we going to use it in a healthy or an unhealthy way?

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks to Regina from Cleveland, Ohio for her question.

If you have a question you’d like me to address on this podcast, don’t be shy, I’m sure plenty of other folks will benefit from your question so enter it here today.

I’m happy to announce that our Empowered Teen Parenting Workshop is up and running, and if you’d like to get priority entry when we set up our next one, come on over to my website and send me an email.

And please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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