An expert helps one mom manage her kids' video-game obsession.
By Lexy Schmertz
When I was growing up, Oreos, chips, and white bread never crossed our threshold. It was all about homemade, all-natural, and healthy. Of course, every time I went to a friend's house, I'd stuff my face with whatever junk food they had. And I spent most of my allowance on candy at our local newsstand. Clearly, abstinence led to obsession.
As a parent, I'm fairly laissez-faire about food, and-no surprise-so are my three boys. Instead, they're obsessed with video games. I'm not sure that I want to ban video games the way my mom banned Oreos, but I don't know what to do. So I turned to an expert, clinical psychologist and mom Sharon Maxwell, for some advice.
Q: What should parents do if their child is obsessed with video games?
A: When you're fighting the battle over video games, think about how your child's brain develops. What else might that brain have discovered or learned building with Legos, examining bugs, or reading a book? What might it be imagining if it weren't being fed a steady stream of stimulation?
Q: We try to establish times and time limits up front, but with three kids, our schedule changes and we need to be flexible. What should we do?
A: Rule of thumb: Simple is much more likely to work. "No screen time during the week and one hour a day on weekends" is simple, but even with this rule, kids will find loopholes and argue you to death. You have a right to some peace. Try this: "If you make my life miserable over this, the game is gone for a month." But don't say it if you don't mean it.
Q: What if one child is playing and the other is just "watching." Isn't this still screen time?
A: Of course, because the brain is still engaged with the screen. But your kids will never see it that way.
Q: Even "moderate" video-game time leads to demands for more. Screen time seems to be addictive. What to do?
A: Games are developed to be addictive. Reinforcement-winning-is allowed at intervals that keep the player wanting more. Like any kind of addiction, some people will be more susceptible than others. See the checklist from an Iowa State University Study to assess if your child shows signs of addiction.
Related: You and Your Spoiled Kids
Q: What if we finally get down to a set of rules or limits that works, and then the kids go to a friend's house and it all falls apart?
A: Infrequent gaming at a friend's house is not a problem, with one exception. There are certain games that are so offensive to our sense of human decency, like games that reward killing with naked women and sex, that no one should be playing them. Parents must educate themselves and know what games your kids are playing.
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Q: Some experts claim that kids, especially boys, use video games as a way to interact and socialize. Do you agree, and if so, is this a positive thing?
A: I have worked with many boys in my private practice who manage to get through adolescence in part because they can count on a weekly gaming night with their friends. These are the same boys who have to be nudged into finding other ways of socializing. Gaming with friends is far better than holing up in your room for hours on end, alone. Gaming reality can be a wonderful escape from the painful world of adolescence. But someone needs to make sure that gaming hasn't become more real than life.
Read more about video game addiction...
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