Your son is up all hours of the night playing video games. He's moody, argues with you, doesn't listen to you, doesn’t do his chores or school work. He may be feeling unmotivated and disinterested in other activities, leading to neglect of his responsibilities and relationships. You wish he could get better grades and hang out with real-life friends. As a parent, it's understandable that you're feeling frustrated and worried about your son's future. This has been going on too long and you're at your wits' end.
Every day you ask yourself what you can do to fix this situation. You wonder if you’re doomed to deal with a video game-addicted child until he moves out if he can even graduate and find a job to do so.
Unfortunately, this is an all too common situation for parents and children. If you can relate to the above and use and think in similar language, it’s time to change your approach.
However, focusing solely on your child's video game habits may not be the solution. Instead, it's important to address the underlying issues that may be driving his behavior. Your child’s video game addiction isn’t the real problem–you have to get to the root of the issue.
Don't take away your child’s video games
Sounds counterproductive, right?
Our first instinct as parents is to take away video games from our children if they spend all of their time playing them. But that only deals with the symptoms rather than the problem.
If we understand that video game addiction is a symptom of a deeper issue, then we also understand that video games for your child are a coping mechanism for the true issue.
What happens when you take the video games away, or in other words, punish them? You’re taking away their coping mechanism, an activity that helps them deal with their issue. Whatever issues they’re dealing with will just manifest themselves in another addiction or physical symptoms.
Not only that, but they’ll resent you and you’ll create more tension between you and your child.
Have a real conversation with your child about their video game addiction
Have you thought about asking your child why they’re struggling? So many problems in relationships could be solved simply by having a conversation with the person you’re having a conflict with.
What’s going on in your life? How are you doing? I see that you’re struggling at school and you’re acting a bit different, can you tell me what’s going on? What makes you want to play video games so much?
Ask these questions with compassion and without judgment. Open up a dialogue with your child and make sure they feel safe and comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with you.
Let your kid learn how to fail
This one is super hard, but you have to learn how to let your child fail. For example, if you nag your child because you believe they’re not studying enough, you’re taking responsibility for their situation, and as a result, you infantalize them.
If they tell you they’re capable of getting good grades while playing a lot of video games, behave like you believe them and let them do whatever they want to do (barring anything dangerous, of course). Whether they end up getting less-than-stellar grades or not, they still learn about the consequences of their actions, good and bad. The key is that their results are because of their actions, not yours.
This is one of the most important things we teach parents in our Parent Coaching Program. We want children to become adults who have a sense or responsibility and accountability for their actions. When you refuse to let your child make mistakes and fail, you’re going to end up with a big manchild / womanchild.
Let them know you’re there for them and let them ask you for help. They’re only going to reject your help if you force it on them. It’s like with any addiction, the addict needs to want to get help for things to work.
Teach your child restraint rather than restriction
Here’s a crazy thought: Let your kid play video games and watch TV. It’s better to teach a child restraint rather than restriction. This doesn’t mean that you should let them go wild–this is where you can set healthy boundaries and limits so they can get used to restraining themselves and doing things in moderation.
If you constantly tell your kid you can’t do this or that, there’s a big chance they’re going to act out and engage in destructive behaviors and rebel against you worse than before. Give them the option and opportunities to restrain themselves, which they can then apply to many aspects in life.
It’s time to adopt new ways of parenting
The truth is both society and technology have changed to the point where parenting styles of the past are insufficient now. The problems that our children face, and as a result, the challenges that parents have to face, are different and require a much deeper level of communication between the two parties.
With regard to video game addiction in particular, those classic games on Super Nintendo and Sega Genisis were fun and exciting, but they just can’t compare to the games that are being developed today.
Unfortunately, today’s video games are designed by human behavioral economists and psychologists hired by billion-dollar media and entertainment companies—deliberately creating games to be highly addictive. It’s mindblowing to see how much video games have evolved and the impact they have on society. It’s very easy to use technology as a way to cope when we’re going through a bad time.
Thankfully, people aren’t as ashamed to seek out mental health help and practice healthy communication with others as they were in past generations. As a society, we’re increasingly seeing the importance of taking care of our mental health.
Times have changed and our parenting styles need to change, too. We get that it’s not easy to do on your own, which is why we created HG Parent, a collection of resources that help teach parents how to better communicate with their children and cultivate success in many aspects of their lives. You can learn more about it and sign up here.