Video games have become one of the fastest-growing entertainment industries in the world today. However, with the increasing access to video games, children of all ages get attracted to these games. Over time, they become obsessed with these games, much to the detriment of other areas of their lives. If your child plays video games all day, then they might have a problem.
Some of the signs of obsession with video games involve the child playing video games all day, to the point where other areas of their life start to suffer. Their grades start to drop, teenagers stop taking care of themselves, and young “adults” start to act like children. They can become snappy, rude, and utterly apathetic towards their life.
As a parent, this is a difficult sight to watch. You feel like doing something, but your efforts are, for the most part, unfruitful. Taking away video games altogether, hurts your relationship with your child. They start seeing you as the evil mom or dad who never lets them have fun. That is not easy to sit with.
If you find yourself in this scenario, we have a solution for you. In this article, we will discuss why your child plays video games, why it’s hard to get them to quit, and some proven strategies to help break your kid’s obsessions with video games.
Additionally, the Healthy Gamer Parent Coaching program can help. Click here to learn more about how we use a peer-coaching model to create parent support groups and help parents wean their children off video games so that they can live the life they want to live.
As human beings, we get attracted to those external things that fulfill an internal need in us. Therefore, the question to ask is, what internal psychological need is your child trying to fulfill by playing video games all day? Here are some options to consider:
What happens in school when a child finishes up their worksheet and asks for a new one? They are asked to wait until all the other kids have finished up to get a new one. Essentially, the child is rewarded with boredom because they are smart.
Video games help the child overcome this challenge. Games are perfectly tailored to the individual child — when you beat level 1, you immediately get to level 2. There is no waiting for other people to get there. Your progress solely depends on how good you are at the game. If you get stuck at a particular level, that means that the game’s level of challenge is perfect for your skill level at the time. It makes it even more satisfying when you finally beat that level because that means you have visibly improved.
This rate of progress is highly appealing to the fast-paced minds of intelligent and gifted children.
The triumph circuit is not an actual circuit that exists in our brains. However, it is a well-observed psychological pattern that rewards us for seeking out difficult things and overcoming them. There is a prevailing story in evolutionary biology to go out into the unknown, overcome a difficult challenge, and return with a reward.
Video games have found a way to hack this circuit. As a result, you can sit down at a gaming console, play a game, and satisfy the triumph circuit. However, this also means that there is no need to go out into the world to overcome real-life challenges — you can get the same feeling from a video game. That is one of the reasons video games keep gamers stuck.
Video games generally get a bad rap for creating isolated people. While there is some truth in this statement, it is not entirely accurate. Video games can be a source of some of the most authentic relationships that human beings can form. Here’s why.
In our society, people judge everyone else by different characteristics, such as their background, financial status, education, societal status, gender, the color of their skin, etc. These factors heavily influence the people that we meet and the friendships that form.
However, in video games, these characteristics don’t matter. All that matters is how good you are at the game. While toxicity, racism, sexism, and other issues exist in the video game community, the friendships that we form are pretty authentic. They can transcend these barriers that regular social interactions do not.
Moreover, our relationships are often determined by where we live and what we do. Therefore, if you move jobs, change schools, or progress to a newer part of your life, your relationships associated with your current position often don’t last. However, you can carry your internet friends everywhere. They are not limited by geographical boundaries. That is what makes these relationships so authentic.
These aspects of online relationships are precious for children who experience bullying or isolation because of various factors like their physical appearance, psychological makeup, or socioeconomic circumstances. They can find people on the internet who genuinely understand them and don’t judge them based on these characteristics.
fMRI studies have shown that when a person feels negative emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, guilt, or shame, and they start to play a video game, then these feelings start to go away. Since our kid’s generation is not taught how to manage their emotions and has so many avenues to escape them, video games have become one of the natural choices to do so.
Over time, escaping negative emotions leads to the development of alexithymia, a condition in which the person cannot determine their inner emotional state.
However, these emotions don’t disappear; they remain dormant and only come out when the emotional pressure becomes too high, such as during high-octane gaming or when these emotions get triggered by someone else. That is quite often the cause of gamer rage.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter in our brain that regulates how much pleasure we feel. When we play video games, dopamine gets released into the nucleus accumbens, which is the part of our brain that controls the feeling of pleasure. However, over time the brain gets used to a certain amount of dopamine, and we need to play more and more to feel the same amount of pleasure and fun.
When your child gets to the point that they need to play video games for 10+ hours a day to have fun, they have developed a dopamine tolerance. In such a scenario, other activities do not feel as fun as playing a video game, and if they stop gaming, they feel bored for several hours a day. That is one of the reasons why your child might not be willing to do anything other than play video games, watch YouTube, browse social media, etc.
Video games are a relatively new phenomenon. As a result, parents don’t necessarily know how to deal with situations where their kids get addicted. Children don’t usually get addicted to other things in the same way they get addicted to video games.
Therefore, there isn’t much “common wisdom” on dealing with your child’s obsession with video games. Here are some of the ways in which parents try to control their child’s video game addiction and why they don’t work.
It is very common for an incident such as a bad report card, making parents take away video games from their child. However, since the logistics of this boundary are not well thought-out, parents cannot enforce it. Parents might say, “No games from now on. We are talking away your computer and PlayStation, and we will give it back when you do your homework every day.”
However, they don’t check that their child is doing their homework every day. As a result, the child is encouraged to deceive their parents by lying that they did their homework to have access to the game. If the parent finds out that the child has been lying, then this creates distrust in the relationship.
Moreover, the child learns that their parent’s words are meaningless. As a result, the parent-child relationship turns into the child + the video game vs. the parent. Once you start fighting a war with your child, you cannot help them work on their video game addiction.
One of the most common mistakes that parents make is to reward their children by giving them access to video games. Often, this comes at the cost of a boundary.
For example, imagine that you set the boundary that your child will not play video games during the week and only play on weekends. If your child finishes all their homework during the week, then your love for your child and the desire to reward them might make you let the child play during the week. However, this behavior teaches the child that even if their parent sets a boundary, it is meaningless.
Moreover, rewarding your child with video games muddies the boundaries you set. Some children binge once they start playing and lack the impulse control to put down the controller. Therefore, it is much better to use non-gaming-related rewards, such as allowing them to pick what they have for dinner, setting up a movie night with the family, picking the movie they want to watch, etc. Video games do not have to be the only reward that your child appreciates.
Parents often get into arguments with their children about their video game addiction. Their relationships are antagonistic and involve a lot of headbutting. Not only is this very detrimental to the child’s development (they may feel like they don’t have supportive parents), but it also does not help them stop playing video games.
Over time, the child learns not to trust the parents and becomes more isolated. No human, let alone a child, wants to feel that way, but they learn to live with it because that is how they feel. Therefore, it is essential to repair your relationship with your child and maintain open communication with them. Often, this involves parents introspecting and looking at their behavior to observe the effect it has on their child.
Parents don’t understand video games, which is not their fault, because video games popped up and grew very suddenly. However, video games have come to mean so much more than just a means of recreation or entertainment. Therefore, the more parents engage with their child in non-judgemental conversations, the more they build the alliance, the more their kids will start to believe that they care about them and understand them.
In the beginning, every conversation is a battle where the child is fighting for more game time, and the parent is fighting to take away game time. In the child’s mind, there is a cost to the conversation. Thus, there is no point because the child is resistant to it.
If parents start with a non-judgemental conversation, they start to build that alliance. Once you engage them in conversation, then you can start to talk to them about their goals. You can ask:
The kid might say, “I’ll figure it out!” to which you can respond, “But, how? I know that you think you’re going to figure it out, but I don’t understand how you are going to do that. Why would you figure it out later instead of figuring it out now?”
Remember to be compassionate and authentic. Express your feelings but be willing to listen to your child as well. That is how authentic relationships form.
Some of the most significant points of conflict are situations in which your child expects something to happen, and you set a limit that they were not expecting. Therefore, it is essential to set the correct expectations so that you and your child are on the same page.
Managing your child’s expectations is about laying the foundation for your child to think about the questions that you ask them. Additionally, when you take the game away (when your child inevitably does not listen to you), you will have a very long precedent for it. You want them to see it coming because what frustrates kids the most is when their parents lay a boundary that they were not expecting.
Here are actionable tips for setting expectations:
Parents tend to institute large-scale enforcement for brief periods of time. There is usually a catastrophic event such as a huge argument or a bad report card that causes the parent to run out of patience and come down hard on the kid. They institute huge limits, such as telling the kid to stop gaming altogether and taking away their consoles.
This strategy can easily make your kid angry, which is up to the parent to decide whether they find that acceptable. Moreover, this change is so large that it is hard to enforce over time. As the boundary starts to deteriorate, the child learns that boundaries don’t need to be respected because mom and dad will eventually give in.
It is easier to start where you are and devise a strategy based on performance. We want to achieve as much progress as we can with as little restriction as possible. Pick small boundaries, and enforce them 100% of the time. Moreover, any time you set a boundary with your child, you want to build milestones for a reevaluation of the boundary. Their resistance will be lower if they know when you are going to reevaluate.
Remember that setting and enforcing appropriate boundaries boils down to failing and iteration. You will try to set and enforce boundaries, fail, and try again. Take the victories, and learn from your mistakes — that is the best way to achieve success with your child.
Ultimately, the most successful path forward to overcome video game addiction for 90% of kids is to become a healthy gamer. When you have a life worth living and have those psychological needs met outside of gaming, then the game does not remain your only source of fulfilling those needs. As a result, you can start to engage with it in a healthy manner.
One of the most underrated aspects of helping your child live his best life is to have access to other parents who are non-judgmental and understanding of your situation.
Healthy Gamer Parent Coaching is a 12-week bootcamp for parents of children struggling with excessive gaming. You’ll participate in 2 sessions every week:
We’ve worked with thousands of gamers, and we know we can help you, too. Healthy Gamer Programs are effective and affordable because they’re led by people who get it.
Click here to learn more about Healthy Gamer Parent Coaching.