How can you help your child spend less time playing video games?
Disclaimer: This article offers general advice regarding excessive internet gaming. This information is not a substitute for therapy and individualized intervention. If you are concerned that your child’s internet gaming is becoming an addiction, please seek advice and support from a mental health specialist.
Signs of internet gaming addiction:
· Constantly thinking about or being preoccupied with gaming
· Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not possible (sadness, anxiety, irritability)
· Tolerance, the need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge
· Inability to reduce playing, unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming
· Giving up other activities, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, hobbies, or interests because of gaming
· Continuing to game despite facing problems at school, job, or in personal relationships
· Deceiving family members or others about the time spent gaming
· Using gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness
· Risk, having jeopardized school, a job, or relationship because of gaming
Internet gaming has been in the researcher’s attention for quite some time now and, as a result, we have an extensive body of research regarding this subject. Teenagers are the most at-risk category to develop an internet game addiction. 60% of the children affected are boys, although more girls have developed a strong interest in internet gaming too.
Before we talk about how you can help your child, we need to cover our basis and discuss some very important aspects.
Excessive gaming is often associated with other disorders like ADHD, anxiety, depression, high functioning autism spectrum disorder, or having other life difficulties such as poor social skills, being poorly integrated among peers, being the victim of bullying. In this case, playing video games might be just the way your child is trying to dealing with a difficult situation. This way of dealing with whichever problem your child is facing is not beneficial or healthy for him. The reason being that excessive gaming is not solving the base problem; it is just a temporary distraction. Talk to your child’s teachers, the school counselor, or other mental health professionals to get to the root of this. If excessive internet gaming is the way your child is trying to cope with something, you need to help him get that problem under control first.
Do you chronically shield your child from the consequences of his behavior? Do you lie to the school, family, and friends to excuse him? Do you cook, wash and clean for him although he is old enough to deal with these things himself and he has absolutely no responsibilities? Do you buy him the latest gaming gadgets and pay the bills that he amounts on internet games? I know it is difficult to stop protecting your child, but remember you must prepare the child for the road ahead of him, not the road for the child.
Does your child want to change? The first step in solving a problem is to recognize you have a problem. If your child is a pre-teen or young teen, you can’t expect him to recognize the problem, you as a parent must take control of the situation. The situation is different if your child is in his late teen or early twenties. You, as a parent, do not have so much say in his life anymore, and his motivation to change is essential.
Last, I think it is important not to be one-sided in this article, so we must discuss your child’s perspective (again, this point is relevant, if your child is in his late teens, early twenties). What are your child’s plans or expectations regarding his gaming? Is his gaming a way to fill his free time, escape boredom or anxieties about his lack of objectives in life, or is he genuinely interested and passionate about this topic? What are his ambitions regarding this, does he want a career in this domain? Sit him down and discuss this. Listen, the times are changing and the professions are developing with it. People have made a career out of things that were not even a thing 10 years ago (let’s think blogger, Youtuber, and many others). If he is genuinely passionate about this and has aspirations of a carrier, sit him down and explain that you are concerned about his future and you cannot take this seriously until you see some objectives and a plan to get there. Let him educated you about this and do your little research online. But his plans cannot come at the expense of his health or reasonable expectations, such as finishing high school or holding a job if he is old enough for it.
Now, let’s discuss some concrete ways to help your child with his excessive gaming:
1. Work on your communication and relationship. If you are concerned that your child spends too much time playing video games, chances are that you already have had some arguments about this topic and it has become a touchy subject. You have to rebuild the communication between you two to have some very important discussions. Adopt a collaborative attitude. You want your child to understand that your only concern is to keep healthy, happy, and safe. This is essential, do not let your conversation become a screaming match or end with slammed doors. It is best to stop if you feel like the conversation is becoming a little heated and resume when everyone has calmed down.
2. Establish some rules around internet use. I know, I have just said that you want to adopt a collaborative attitude, but bear with me. This passion for internet gaming cannot come at the price of his health, well-being, and reasonable expectation from him. Think of this as being limits to his behavior. In between which limits are you ok with his gaming? How much time, at what hours, with which conditions? Be open to hear his side of the story and allow him to negotiate so that you both are ok with the solution as much as possible. Set consequences for breaking the rules and be consistent with them. It is important to be flexible and open to discussion in the negotiations phase, but consistent after setting the rules: no exceptions, no bargaining, no rewarding with more gaming time for good behavior. This step requires a lot of tact, patience, and openness to communication. I feel parenting is 99% of the time trying to find the sweet spot between taking charge as a parent and letting your child become his own person.
3. Set realistic goals and expectations. If your child was gaming, for example, 6 hours per day, expecting him to give it up cold turkey is not realistic. Remember, you are playing the long game here and you want results that will last long therm. Consider the time he needs to do homework, or he has online classes, but make sure that is what he does in his room. You can use screen-time-tracking and parental-control apps like Zift and Screen Time to monitor the time that he spends online.
4. Fill that new free time with other activities and hobbies. Now that your child is not allowed to play video games all day every day, he will need to fill his time somehow. Offer him some options, communicate to him you are ready to support him in doing new things, taking up new hobbies or interests. This is a great chance for him to meet new people and make new friends. Recommend football, fitness, or some other form of activity that involves getting out of the house and being in a social setting. Allow him to experiment with different things and discover what interests him.
Do you have experience getting your child to spend less time in front of a screen or game console? Share your experience in the comment section.
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