Am I raising a video game addict?
by Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero
THE PROBLEM: I’m afraid my son is addicted to video games. He’s twelve, and he’s a sweet boy, but he only seems to be truly happy when he’s playing his favorite video game. I do limit the time he spends on screens at home (one hour a day), but I have no control over what he does at other kids’ homes. Sometimes, he sneaks a few hours when I’m not home (he admits this!), but I don’t want to over-dramatize the situation by locking his game up (or removing a cable) when I leave the house. I am at a loss as to what to do.
MARY SAYS: Addiction comes in many forms, and as many parents will tell you, gaming is one of them. You’re wise to limit the amount of time your son spends on games, but what you really want is for him to be happy when he’s not glued to a screen.
Too often, we focus on eliminating an addiction without identifying what’s missing when it’s gone. Ask your son how he feels when he’s not playing games. Restless? Nervous? Does he continually find himself thinking about getting back to his game, or whose house he can go to and play? He may not realize how uncomfortable he chronically feels when he has to spend time in his ‘real’ life.
Help your son understand he has a problem, which might motivate him to fix it. Even if it doesn’t, it’s time for you to step in. Your child has unique gifts, talents, and passions that will remain dormant until he uses them.
What does he love to do? Gardening? Animals? Music? Drawing? Explore these activities and get your son involved in them, whether he wants to or not. He needs to get his hands dirty, engage his senses, and interact with people from multiple generations—not just kids his own age.
And if you can mix his talents with service, all the better. There’s nothing like volunteering at a rescue kennel or entertaining seniors in a nursing facility to awaken the heart, which far exceeds whatever chemical is released by ‘leveling up.’
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ERIKA SAYS: Man, oh man, this is the very reason why I have a love-hate relationship with electronics. My son isn’t into video games, but we do have an iPad that causes friction between us. I think about chucking it out the window several times a week. It irks my soul when it’s the first thing he wants to play with in the morning—and what he wants to do all day. I can relate to your concern about your son becoming addicted and the frustration of encouraging him to do something other than sitting in front of a screen.
You’re off to a great start by limiting the amount of time your son spends on gaming. Meting out consequences for not sticking to the rules is a good idea, too. If he’s sneaking extra time while you’re away, it’s totally appropriate to take the console or remove a cable as a last resort. Perhaps you can start off by deducting time when he exceeds his allotment. Let’s say you allow him to play one hour a day and he goes over by 30 minutes, then subtract a half hour from his playing time the following day.
If that doesn’t phase him, take his game away for a day or two at a time.
Video gaming time should be a reward, not a luxury that your son has access to “just because.” Give him a set of chores to earn playtime. We have a chore/behavior chart where my son earns happy faces for each task completed. Each happy face earns him three minutes, and there are seven things listed on his chart. Potentially, he can earn twenty-one minutes a day, Monday through Friday, which gives him roughly one hour and a half of iPad time on weekends. I do give him 25 free minutes during the week, but only for educational games. On weekends he can play any game he wants, as long as it’s appropriate and mom approved.
Unfortunately, you can’t control gaming when your son is at a friend’s house. However, you can limit the time he spends there, or you can invite the kids to your house. Under your watch, you can encourage activities other than video games, like a classic game of manhunt, Nerf gun battles in the backyard, or a special board game night. Implementing a reward system, consequences for sneaking in extra time, and encouraging him to get outdoors may be all you need to do
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more ASK MOM advice.
ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT Erika Guerrero
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
ABOUT Suzanne Johnson
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of six, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
Gertrude Warner Book Award
Moonbeam Children's Book Award
An adventure for kids ages 8-12— especially if they like video games!