When I was a kid, I was wholeheartedly addicted to my Super Nintendo. During summers, I would gladly spend as many as 16 hours per day hooked to the screen. When I got a Nintendo 64 for my 12th birthday, bringing in all the novel joys of 3D gaming, things got even worse. I didn't do my homework. I didn't play outside. I didn't socialize with friends or learn new things. All of my thoughts, wishes, hopes, and dreams were focused on getting that darned Triforce back from Ganondorf.
The day my mother threw away all of my video games, I cried for hours and told her that I'd never forgive her. In retrospect, it was the best thing she ever did for me. Today, I see both children and adults who are so addicted to video gaming that they neglect all other responsibilities. While I don't oppose video games at all, I don't like seeing childhoods -- and even entire lives -- lost to video game addiction. Here are some pointers, from a former 24-hour gamer, for helping a child overcome a dependence on video games.
1. Parent your kids. It sounds harsh, but often, I believe that parents are to blame for their children's addictions to video games. All too often, parents let their kids play games for hours on end because the games act as auto-babysitters. While your kid is gaming, you have an opportunity to chat on the phone, do the laundry and catch a nap. If you let your child play video games constantly, ask yourself who is benefiting. If you are using games as substitutes for your own parental involvement, step up to the plate. You have an obligation to responsibly parent your child.
2. Set the timer. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children have absolutely no more than two hours of screen-time per day. This might seem like a laughably strict regulation in households where video games punctuate hours of TV, but it's a restriction that is necessary for your child's health. Help your video game-addicted child by setting a timer when he sits down for a gaming session. Give him a 10-minute warning before time's up, then turn off the set when he's hit two hours of screen time. Remind him that, if he games for two hours, he can't have any TV, and that if he watches TV for an hour, he only gets one hour of game time. This helps to teach time management while also benefiting your child's health and development.
3. Remind your child of your love.I can't stress this enough. When my friend pulled the plug on her preteen's outright video game addiction, I heard him scream, "You don't love me! You're taking away everything that ever mattered to me!" After getting the go-ahead from my friend, I marched up to her tearful son's room and explained to him that his mother loved him dearly and didn't want to see him throw his life away immersed in video games -- and that they aren't supposed to be "everything that ever mattered" to anyone. When I explained that I now viewed my own mother's video-game-toss as the best thing she ever did for me, he finally understood. Make sure that your kids understand that you're not the bad guy. Your rules are not punishments; they come from a position of love.
4. Get involved. I don't mean that you should stoop to your child's level and get obsessive about the latest gaming frenzy. However, you can take advantage of your child's video game addiction as an opportunity to not only bond, but also to get a firsthand view of what he's playing. I remember how much I admired my usually-uptight father the day he sat down next to me and challenged me to a game of Super Mario Kart. You can do the same with your kids, even if gaming isn't your schtick -- and, if you are a gamer, make sure that you set a good example by moderating your own time at the controller. You and your child don't have to live in separate worlds.
5. Make the real world more interesting. If your video-game addicted kid feels unreasonably drawn to fantasy worlds, it's likely because his own environment simply isn't entertaining enough. When this is the case, he'll benefit from a change of scenery or a new real-world hobby. Take a trip to a zoo, the YMCA, an art museum, or a youth group. Get your child a set of art supplies, a fish tank, or some other hands-on activity that truly suits his tastes. If he's crazy about roleplaying games, introduce him to the world of table-top RPGs (a local game store is likely to have information about kid-friendly table-top gaming groups). Your child is far less likely to dive into a digital screen when he learns to see the wonders of the tangible world.
6. Get professional help.This may seem extreme, but it can be necessary for some children. In many cases, video game addictions are accompanied by other symptoms, which may be indicative of obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, social anxiety, or depression. It can often be a form of escapism from a dysfunctional home life, problems in school, or difficulty relating to other children. In these cases, a professional therapist's help might be necessary. Contact your child's pediatrician if you believe this may be the case for your child.
Related Work by Juniper Russo