“Does My Child Have a Video Game Addiction?” How to Set Limits Around Video Game Use

by Sara Bean, M.Ed.
Is your child playing video games instead of doing schoolwork? Is he avoiding  social situations—and is his behavior worsening as a result of constant gaming?  I’ve heard the desperation and concern in the voices of many, many parents whose  kids seem to spend all their time playing video games, as if possessed by some  mysterious outside force. As one parent said, “I worry that my son might be  addicted. When I shut the game off, he freaks out and goes ballistic! I just  don’t know what to do.”
Children  especially can have a very hard time stopping once they get stuck  in the  positive feedback loops (or reward cycles) video games create.


Related:  Does your child “go ballistic”  when you try to set limits?

*Note: This article is not intended for use as a diagnostic   tool for your child, nor is the advice intended to take the place of treatment   by a licensed medical or mental health professional.

If you’re worried about the amount of time your child spends gaming, you’re  not alone—advisors on our Parental  Support Line hear about this on a regular basis. What’s more, in 2010 the Kaiser Family  Foundation surveyed 2,000 children ages 8-18 in 2010 and found children’s  screen time totals an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes per day. Do the math:  that’s more than 53 hours per week in front of a  screen—more than a  full-time job! But  understand that even if your child is playing a lot of games  and gets angry when  you set limits, it doesn’t mean he has an addiction. In  fact, while there is  much buzz about “video game addiction” these days, it’s  not yet recognized as a  true disorder by the American Psychiatric  Association.

Today  I’m going to discuss how you can set some limits on your child’s  gaming. I will  also give you some simple guidelines to help figure out whether  or not your  child’s video game use could become pathological—or in other words,  unhealthy  or addiction-like. I’m also going to  reveal some well-kept  secrets your kids don’t want you to know about their game  systems. You’re going  to love it, your kids are going to hate it—and I’m very  excited to share them  with you!

Related:  How to take back control of  your household.

When Video Game Use Crosses the Line

As  a parent of a child who plays video games, computer games, or games on  handheld  devices like cell phones, it’s important to take a look at your  child’s overall  functioning at home, at school, in their social circle and  their mental or  psychological functioning. First, let’s take a moment to  consider some  positives about video games: Some games are educational, some  promote physical  activity, and when played with others games can help children  develop the  skills of sharing and cooperation. Video games can also foster  resilience and they  can even help to strengthen children’s problem-solving  skills and patience in  challenging situations.

Now  I know there are many of you out there who are really struggling with  your  kids’ video game use and see no positives in it whatsoever. This is a  really  tough place to be. Video game designers create the games to be highly  engaging  and to make the user want to keep playing. Children especially can  have a very  hard time stopping once they get stuck in the positive feedback  loops (or  reward cycles) these games create. Here are some things to look for  that might mean your child’s video game use  is becoming unhealthy:

  • Your  child’s life seems to be dominated by  video games. They seem to be his only  motivator and occupy the majority of his  thinking. He talks non-stop about  video games when he’s not playing them and  spends a lot of time learning about  them or planning his next opportunity to  play.
  • Your  child’s social interactions inside and  outside of the home have been negatively  impacted—friendships seem to have  dwindled, your child has withdrawn from  social activities he used to enjoy, and  family relationships are strained or  suffering because of your child’s video  game use.
  • Your  child’s grades are failing or his  hygiene is chronically neglected because of  his video game use.
  • Stopping  video games for any reason has a  long-lasting negative impact on your child’s  emotions. He becomes depressed,  moody, angry, aggressive or violent when he is  unable to play.
  • Your  child has stolen video games from  stores or friends, or stolen money from  others in order to buy video games,  more than once. He frequently lies about how  much time he spends playing video  games.

Related:  Has your child’s behavior  crossed the line?

So  what can you do to limit your child’s video game playing and create  healthy  boundaries around it? For some of  you, this will be  more challenging than for others. Some kids are much more  deeply involved with  video games and setting limits in these cases will be  harder.

Here  are some ideas to get you started:

    1. Determine  if you need more  support.  If most of the above examples sound like your child, or  if your child becomes  destructive, aggressive, threatening or violent when you  try to enforce or set  limits on their gaming, it might be helpful for you to  talk to someone in your  area who can work directly with you and your child as  you make changes. This  might mean talking to your child’s pediatrician or  working with a local  therapist to determine what kinds of changes are  appropriate, how to respond to  negative behavior, and how to effectively  enforce  your limits with your child.
    2. Start  off slowly. The American  Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting video games to  one hour per  day.  And while it can be  tempting to dramatically cut back your child’s  access to games, or want to  remove them from your home altogether, it might be  more helpful to start off  slowly. Let your child know you are starting to  question whether video games  have a place in your home because they seem to  cause a lot of problems. Offer a  couple specific examples, such as “When I tell  you it’s time to turn them off,  you use abusive  language. And, your grades have gone from B’s and C’s to D’s  and F’s since  you started playing _______.” Let your child know that instead of  getting rid  of the games right now, you’re going to try a new rule first—and  that their  ability to follow that rule or not will help you determine if the  games  stay.
    3. Be  specific. Let  your  child know what guidelines you are going to be using to determine if video  games are working out or not. James Lehman talks about four questions you can   use to assess a new limit in your home:
      • What will we see if this is working?
      • What will we do if this is working?
      • What will we see if this is not   working?
      • What will we do if this is not   working?

      You’ll want to actually go over these  questions and  answers with your child. For example, you might say, “From now on  the video  games need to be turned off by 8 pm. If this is working, I’ll see you  turning  them off by 8 without being abusive, and your grades might even get  better in  school. If this happens, we’ll keep it going. If this doesn’t work,  I’ll see  you putting up a fight at 8 pm and continuing to play later than that.  If that  happens, you’ll lose your game privileges for the next day.”

Related:  How to set  limits and give consequences that work.

  1. Problem solve. Work  together with your child to find  a new technique he can use to try to shut down  the video games in a much more  timely fashion. For example, maybe you discuss  the idea of your child avoiding  certain more engaging games at certain times,  or set up a reward system for  turning the game off when a timer goes off. Also  consider how your child  can  cope with the unpleasant feelings caused by stopping the game, or  discuss what other  fun activities he can do if he’s bored. Talk these things  over with your  child to help him be successful.
  2. Be empowered. Let’s  face it: the user menus on these  games are often not very easy to use. But, I  found that most of these companies  have websites with instructions for setting  up parental controls. And get ready  for this, parents: Did you know that Xbox  is equipped with a family timer? You  can program the console to shut itself  offafter the allotted gaming time has been used up for the day! Here are   some links to some websites for more information about parental controls. Apple   products are a huge challenge for parents as well, so I included them in my   list below. If you find the instructions on the web hard to understand, call   the company’s customer support phone number for more assistance. If you’re   dealing with an Apple product, stop in to your local Apple store for support.

Antisocial—and in the Basement

We’ve  already talked a lot about setting up some clear structure for your   kids—limiting their time on games or having a clear off-time, with some logical   consequences or rewards. Some parents also find it helpful to establish regular  “Family Time” during which you do something as a family and there are   short-term consequences for not participating. You could also require your child  to participate in some sort of group activity once per week, such as a sport,   club, or youth group. The key here is to let your child choose the activity.   Until they choose an activity, you might restrict their game use on the   weekends to encourage time with friends. Once they choose and begin an   activity, let them know they don’t get any access to video games at all that   day if they don’t attend a scheduled practice or meeting.

Related:  How to stop fighting with  your child—and start communicating.

Perhaps the  trickiest thing of all is that there is no cookie-cutter formula  to determine  how much video game time is too much, or what limits and  consequences are  appropriate for your child. Every child is different. Some  children are able to  shift into a different activity more easily, while others  are more vulnerable  targets for the highly rewarding design of the games. In  the end you just have  to trust your gut and go with what feels right for your  family.

Read more: http://www.empoweringparents.com/how-to-set-limits-around-video-game-use.php#ixzz26AMxCNBU

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