Online gaming addiction is real. You can read this post about creative ways to nurture healthy boundaries around screen time for younger children, but some of you may be shaking your head saying, “My kid is beyond that point…he is addicted.” Perhaps anytime you attempt to corral efforts at managing online gaming, you run up against a wall. Maybe your child or teenager is moody, sneaking time online or is lying about her online use. These and other symptoms are typical of an unhealthy online gaming obsession, according to WebMD. You need help with the battle to help your child break a habit that may have started out innocently enough, but now has turned into a full blown craving by which they seem to be enslaved.
You are not alone.
- Child is moody, angry, or even aggressive when he is unable to play.
- Child frequently thinks and talks about games when not playing – life is focused on the games.
- Social interactions, previously preferred activities, or grades are negatively impacted.
- Child has stolen to get video games or frequently lies about playing time.
Here’s how one family started to help their son break his online gaming addiction as it had spiraled out of control:
Some kids can regulate their computer use with fairly minimal guidance. Dillon was not one of those kids. At fourteen, he was extremely intense, and obsessed with online interactive video games, especially Minecraft. He also played an empire building game that wasn’t as time-consuming but needed frequent daily attention.
No matter how hard his parents, Kate and Marc, tried to help Dillon scale back, the rage and frustration was intense whenever it was time to turn the games off. There was never an end point or feeling of lasting success, no matter how much time was given. It was like giving a kid only one bite of a delicious cookie (or as Kate observed – “more like one sniff of crack cocaine.”) The begging and pleading for more time was almost constant. Even when it was turned off, he always knew those Minecraft battles were going on online, without him. It consumed his mind and his friendships, and nothing else seemed nearly as important to him.
When Kate and Marc were coming to the decision to no longer allow their computer to be used for addictive online games, they presented it to Dillon carefully and gradually, receiving coaching at the same time, to maintain perspective and focus. They developed a three-fold strategy:
- They evaluated their current activities. They started by developing a system and a chart to rate all their different activities for social, cognitive, physical and spiritual benefit divided by the length of time it consumed. Teaching Sunday School together ranked highest, and playing video games ranked lowest (even by Dillon’s admission) when the length of time invested was factored in. This activity helped Dillon understand the relative value of different activities and really begin to understand why screen obsession could be a problem. They all worked on a plan to adjust family priorities and time use.
- They did a three-week family technology fast. Together they all experienced the impact of turning off their screens (except for minimal workplace and school use.) They chose the start of the school year when Dillon would be busy and distracted by other things as much as possible. During this time, Marc and Kate went out of their way to provide many fun family activities on the weekend and during free time—including sports events, social gatherings, board games, outdoor games and activities, special foods, time together, and so on.
- They developed extensive, creative alternatives to technology. Once they completed the fast, Marc and Kate wanted to make the permanent prohibition of online gaming at home more tolerable, and help Dillon accept the change without lasting bitterness.
- They gave him time to transfer his empire to someone else.
- They made an ongoing effort to be available for the fun family activities they developed during their family technology fast.
- They helped him pursue a faith-based, competitive card game called Redemption. They played with him sometimes and even traveled so he could participate in tournaments.
- They got him a fun “mini pool table”.
- They minimized how much they controlled his other activities or activities at other people’s houses. Kate added, “And we prayed an awful lot!”
- They made plans for getting a puppy. (When the screen changes were first implemented, this was about the only other thing he was really interested in.) Dillon knew that they would never have done it otherwise, and the eventual arrival of an adorable little golden retriever helped significantly as he focused on the challenge of training his new pup.
- They supported his involvement in an outdoorsy (no technology) Bible camp for boys. Dillon probably would never have decided to volunteer there if he’d known he could be home battling people at Minecraft and developing his empire. Camp was a fantastic growth experience that he chose for the next three summers as he became a young man with a desire to bless others with his life.
Although we’d love to tell you it was an painless shift to get Dillon off of his addictive games – it was just not so. Marc and Kate could have gone the route of many parents with good intentions, who get railroaded by their child’s intensity to fight for their exciting, gratifying, “glowing drug” and simply give in. It took incredible determination and perseverance to help their son, as he gradually matured through this challenge.
Coming up later this week we’ll continue this story as we talk about the phases of addictive growth over time, and offer some advice from parents who’ve walked this road with their teen! Be sure to check back!