As parents, it is worrying and disheartening to find that your child does not want to engage in any activity apart from playing video games for 16 hours a day. Telling them to read books does not work. Asking them to do chores does not work either. Your child will lash out and want to go back to playing games. These are not great alternatives to video games.
Parents are generally clueless about what activities to recommend to their inhouse gamer. When the child feels forced to sit down and read a book, something that they don’t enjoy, it does more harm than good. It sows resentment in the child and the parent because the child will go back to gaming against the parent’s wishes, and the child feels forced to do something that is fundamentally unenjoyable for them.
There is a fundamental lack of understanding on both sides of this equation. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how video games affect your child. It helps to understand why certain activities are more fun while others are boring for your child, and how, as parents, you can help them regain balance using alternatives to video games.
If you want to learn more about video game addiction, its signs, symptoms, causes, the effect on a gamer’s life, how to stop playing video games, how to wean your child off video games, whether games cause violence or make you smarter, then the Comprehensive Guide to Video Game Addiction might be of use to you. Click here to read the complete guide on video game addiction.
While it is useful to know the alternatives to video games that can work, this list is incomplete without understanding why certain activities work for certain kinds of gamers.
Different kinds of gamers seek to fulfill different needs from video games. To learn what these needs are, we first need to understand how games affect the mind.
Video games affect the brain in several ways. However, we are going to focus on there are three distinct effects:
Our brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine when we are having fun. This chemical governs the feeling of pleasure. When we play games, our brain releases a constant supply of dopamine with random bursts.
Over time, our brain gets used to a certain level of dopamine, and we need to play for longer durations to have the same amount of fun. If we keep playing for prolonged periods, our brain gets used to a certain amount of dopamine, which makes other activities feel less enjoyable. Anything other than gaming is not as fun.
Video games also suppress negative emotions. The amygdala is the part of our brain that governs the feeling of negative emotion. It is active when we experience negative emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, frustration, etc. Moreover, fMRI studies have shown that when we start playing a video game while our amygdala is active and we are feeling negative emotions, our amygdala shuts off.
Over time, this can lead to a condition called Alexithymia, which is the inability to determine your inner emotional state. That is why video games are great coping mechanisms. One can easily play a game and feel better.
The Triumph circuit is not a physical structure in our brains. It is more of a psychological pattern that all human beings share. The triumph circuit gets activated when we feel challenged and, as a result of overcoming that challenge, receive a reward.
Learn more about the triumph circuit in this video:
Video games have found a way to hack this circuit. If we feel inadequately challenged, we can turn on a video game and change that. Video games provide us with challenges and reward us in a way that is subservient to us. As a result, we don’t need to rely on the real world to feel tested and receive rewards.
Click here to learn more about why these three factors make video games addictive.
Now that we understand how video games affect the brain and the needs that they fulfill, we can start to look at different activities that will make suitable replacements for your child’s gaming habit.
However, the first step is to understand what kinds of games your child plays. This understanding will help you determine whether they will enjoy a particular hobby or not since different types of games fulfill different needs. Some of the game genres mentioned here are:
Some activities won’t work for gamers because they are too abstract. For example, “working out” is not actionable. How does one workout?
Video games put us in an environment, tell us the rules, and then ask us to solve a problem given a particular set of conditions. A gamer’s mind gets used to going through this process, so when they find themself in a situation where the rules are unclear or open-ended, they get stuck. They don’t know how to deal with these open-ended problems, because video games have trained their minds to solve close-ended problems.
That affects a gamer’s motivation as well. Players are less likely to clean their room because their brain does not know how to solve open-ended problems. It is difficult for them to break down that task into actionable steps, which keeps them from attempting that task in the first place.
Learn more about open-ended vs close-ended problem-solving in this video:
One solution to this problem is to help them break down this task into several steps. For example, cleaning your room can be broken down into cleaning your cupboard, picking clothes off the floor, making the bed, etc. Each of these is an actionable task that will help the gamer learn how to solve open-ended problems.
Click here to read more about detoxing your child from video games.
To suggest activities that work for your child, you need to understand what games they enjoy playing. That will give you a significant insight into how their brain functions and why the games they play are enjoyable to them.
The first step to doing that is to get on their team. If your child’s perspective is “Me + video games vs. my parents,” then it will be hard to get them to do anything.
Our Parents Course can help you build rapport with your child and help them regain balance. Click here to learn more.