Video game addiction gets in the way of many parent-child relationships, which affects the whole family. What can you do when your child lashes out every time they play games, and in the meantime, their grades suffer?
It can be tough to convince your child to stop gaming when you can’t have a conversation with them. Moreover, any parent who’s tried to take their child’s games away forcefully knows that that strategy does not work in the long run. Therefore, it is essential to understand why your child plays video games and what effects their video game addiction has on the family.
Here’s how video game addiction affects the family:
- Your child plays games to cope with their negative emotions. These feelings could range from shame and frustration to loneliness.
- Their grades, physical health, and relationships start to suffer. They feel worse and rely more on gaming to feel better.
- If you take away their games, they lash out, and over time, this negatively affects their familial relationships.
Let’s explore why your child is addicted to video games in more detail, and look at a few ways to repair your relationship with your child.
What Do Video Games Mean to Your Gamer Child?
Typically, video games are the source of a lot of frustration between many parents and children. But they don’t have to be.
Gaming becomes a problem only when it takes away from the time that would otherwise go into building and maintaining healthier relationships. If your child chooses to play video games instead of interacting with the family or friends, then gaming is not the root issue. It is the symptom of a larger problem.
One usually plays games for recreation. However, you don’t hear about someone playing Monopoly or Scrabble for 12 hours a day. But when a gamer spends that amount of time gaming, it is no longer a recreational activity. A recreational activity is something you do on the side after you finish with your obligations for the day. However, gaming feels like the primary obligation to the addicted gamer, since everything else seems too difficult.
Click here to read about if video games are actually addictive?
Check out this insightful interview with a father and his gamer son
Why Does My Child Spend 8 Hours a Day Playing Video Games?
Let’s explore what gaming does for a child why they might spend so much time playing video games.
- Gaming intellectually challenges your child, especially when school is not engaging enough.
- Video games provide safety to teenagers in a time when they feel uneasy due to several reasons such as puberty, bullying, and societal pressures.
- Gaming provides a community that does not judge gamers for their external attributes.
- The video game industry is massive, and some professional gamers earn millions of dollars a year live-streaming their gaming to thousands of people. Therefore, video games are now a viable career option.
Here’s why your child can’t quit video games
Video Game Addiction Effects on Parent-Child Relationships
Child (Ages 8-13)
- Most children do not have the emotional vocabulary or the mental capability to articulate what video games do for them. In fact, due to the way games suppress negative emotions, they do not understand it themselves. As a result, any conversation you have with your child about their gaming addiction will end up being negative.
- Over time, the parent starts to associate these negative interactions with video games (which is fair). As a result, the primary solution a parent comes up with is to take away the child’s games.
- However, that makes the situation worse. The child is no longer playing video games for recreation. Games stop being fun if you play them for 12 hours a day. If the child ignores other aspects of their life and playing for that long, then gaming is more than just recreation for them. At that point, it is serving a different purpose. It is not just a “game” — gaming is a coping mechanism. As a result, when the child fears that their games will get taken away, they start to act out. That creates negative interactions, which compound over time and results in a bad relationship between the child and their parent.
Check out this article on whether video games cause bad behavior in children.
Teenager (Ages 13-18)
- Teenagers tend to have more agency than younger children. If the cause for their video game addiction does not get addressed when they are children, then they remain defensive about their gaming habits. Moreover, a teenager has probably found online friends and a community that supports them, making it even harder for them to give up gaming.
- Due to emotional suppression from gaming, teenagers addicted to video games lack the emotional awareness and vocabulary to communicate their feelings to their parents. Moreover, feelings of shame and guilt are likely to develop because of low school performance, lack of social support, etc. Their last refuge is their video game community.
- Some parents think that gaming is just a phase, and teenagers will grow out of it when they get older. Moreover, parents either resort to taking away their games (which makes the teenager’s behavior worse) or let them keep gaming because they’ve tried everything that they could imagine. At this point, the emotional distance between the parent and child is vast, and there is a problematic lack of understanding from both sides.
Young Adult (Ages 18+)
- Young adults addicted to gaming for most of their life will have a poor relationship with their parents due to a lack of communication. As a result, there is a fundamental lack of understanding in the relationship. If the young adult has not found other support systems, they are likely to rely on gaming to cope with their emotions.
- There might also be some resentment for their parents and a feeling of never being understood. As a result, they will avoid unnecessary interactions because they do not know how to address or communicate those emotions.
Video Game Addiction Effects on Friendships
Many gamers get bullied at school and don’t have many friends. As a result, they turn to video games for an escape. However, the beautiful thing about the gaming community is that they don’t judge people for how they look or their socioeconomic status. While these are the main comparisons teenagers make, the only thing you get judged for online is what you say and how you speak. In the gaming community, you also get judged for your skill at the game. As a result, gamers seek refuge in these communities because that is the only place they feel valued as a human being.
Over time, real-life social interactions become more challenging for them. Social skills are like any other skill — they need to be developed and maintained through practice. If a gamer stops engaging in social situations early in life, then they fall behind everyone else. That makes them feel worse because when they try to interact with other people, they feel stupid, which makes them avoid future social situations.
As a result, they develop low self-esteem, social anxiety, or even agoraphobia, the fear of places and situations that cause panic, helplessness, or embarrassment. That is because they have learned that the outside world is cruel to them, and the only place where they feel safe is in the video game.
Video Game Addiction Effects on Family Research
- One study showed that when parents played video games with their children, it resulted in positive outcomes such as decreased levels of aggressive behavior. The fascinating finding was that parents gaming with their children increased pro-social behavior (activities that are more altruistic and benefit other people), specifically in girls.
- A study analyzed data from 536 parent-child pairs on parents’ strategies to handle their child’s gaming habits. The study measured three forms of parenting: playing with their child, checking the game’s rating before allowing their child to play it, and stopping their child from gaming altogether. It found that parents who thought that gaming was bad were more likely to stop their children from gaming altogether.
- Another study found that gaming together fosters relationships between older and younger adults.
- The results from a study conducted by Wang et al. in 2018 show that the more family members play video games together, the higher they rate their family satisfaction and closeness.
Gaming can actually result in very authentic relationships. Here’s why:
How To Repair A Relationship with Your Child
Repairing your relationship with your child does mean you have to get them to quit gaming. The goal here is to achieve a balance in your child’s gaming and interact with them in a way that works for both you.
Get on the Same Team
The first step is to get on the same team. You cannot repair your relationship with your child if both of you are on different teams. Help them understand that you’re there for them, and you still love them and will do your best to understand them.
Make it clear that you are not going to take away their games forcefully. If your child thinks that you will make them stop gaming, then the following conversations will be ineffective.
Understand why Your Child Plays Video Games
A correct diagnosis precedes good treatment. Have conversations with your child about:
- What games they like playing
- Why they like playing those games
- How does playing and winning/losing make them feel?
- Do they have friends from gaming? How close are those friends?
It is crucial to approach this from a perspective of understanding rather than taking action. Your child might be on edge because they’re afraid you’ll take away their games, which will affect their answers. A bonus tip would be to sit in the same room as your child while the game and root for them when they win/do well. The idea is to remove the negative association they might have with you and gaming. It will help if your child does not feel judged and becomes more comfortable with the idea of you being around when they are playing games.
Click here to read about how to detox your child from video games.
Understand Them as a Person
Many gamers feel alienated from their families because they feel like nobody understands them. That is especially true if they turned to video games because they got bullied at school. They are also more likely to turn to online communities to find friends because that is where other people like them hang out. Those communities are the only place where they feel accepted and understood.
If you can cultivate an environment where your child feels loved and understood despite their video game addiction, that will do wonders for your relationship. It will also help them rely less on video games and video game communities for emotional support. It is crucial to try to understand them because, given some time, they will recognize and see the genuine effort you make to learn about them. As a result, they will be more likely to share what’s their troubles with you. If they can rediscover the emotional support you provide, they will not have to rely on video games to cope with and suppress their negative emotions.
Have Conversations about Their Life
This step is an extension of understanding your child. You can try asking them the following questions. However, keep in mind that your child may carry shame about these things and will be less likely to open up to you if they think you will scold them for it.
- How are you doing at school?
- Do you have friends that you like to hang out with?
- Do you enjoy going to school?
- Does anyone bully you?
- Do you feel you can talk to me about how you feel?
It is also important not to bombard them with questions. Just take five minutes out every day to ask them one of these questions. Do not give them any action steps; these questions are just a way to get them to open up to you and show them that you care about them.
Try to end each conversation on a positive note. That does not necessarily mean giving your child an action step since they may not be able to take that step. Moreover, if they fail, their feeling of shame will increase. For example, if your child tells you that they don’t have any friends in school, you might repeat back to them, “It sounds like you feel quite alone”. They might nod or feel uncomfortable, and you can merely follow that up with reassurance that you are there for them.
Click here to read about alternative activities for your gamer child (ones that will ACTUALLY work!)
While video games on their own are relatively benign, if your child starts to use video games to escape their problems in real life, that can have devastating effects on the family.
The above steps aim to help you repair your relationship with your child. One of the most important things to remember is that your child will only be able to take steps to reduce their gaming once they feel like they don’t need to use gaming to cope with their feelings and emotions. If they feel understood and part of the family, then that is a massive win for you.
These are only the first steps to help your child regain control of their gaming habit and repair their relationship with the rest of the family. If you’d like to understand how to help your child regain control and move forward in school and life, we can help.
Dr. Alok Kanojia is the world’s leading expert on video game addiction. He designed the Healthy Gamer Action Plan for parents who are struggling to get their child to stop gaming and get them to do better at school, be physically active, and have meaningful relationships with their friends in real life. Click here to learn more.