I never thought video games could be anything other than a guiltless pleasure.
Nothing more than innocent fun to pass the time before doing something else. But that changed in my junior year of college. The year started normal enough. I moved to a new floor in the dormitory and made some new friends. One of them ended up being different from the rest.
He seemed like a normal guy but he spent a lot of time playing World of Warcraft. Like, a lot of time. It started off with him rushing back after classes to tuck into a session. It continued as he started playing all night.
He stopped hanging out. The idea of going out to parties or other, social events became too much of a hassle. Seemingly, he’d go days without showering or eating other than energy drinks and breakfast pastries (To this day, I can’t see a Pop-Tart without thinking of him).
And then everything changed…
He started missing classes, then projects, then exams. When the year ended, we were each packing up our belongings to go home. But I was heading off to an internship with a Fortune 500 company and he was going to his home to contemplate his next step as he had failed out of the university.
Teenage video game addiction isn’t a new phenomenon. Since the 1970s, the threat of computer-generated animation has been seen as a constant menace. The actual word “addiction” didn’t come into use until the early 2010s, reaching recognition by the WHO in 2019. By then, it is seemingly too late in sounding the alarm.
According to the Pew Research Center as recently as 2018, just about three out of four, young men reported playing video games more than occasionally.
Why are simulated worlds more appealing than the real one we all live, breathe, and exist in?
I will tell you, let’s take a quick look at the reasons why young people play video games so extensively.
They’re Fun, Engaging, and Easy
The Football Association’s handbook of rules and regulations is 246 pages long. That’s pretty intense. Also, not a lot of fun to learn. Compare that to the ease of starting a game and learning as you play.
Additionally, most video games offer some incentive and reward for mastering basic tasks (i.e. digital currency, song, character video, further back-story, etc.), which is quite preferable to getting kicked in the shins and sitting on the bench.
One is the Loneliest Number
Millions of kids all across the globe are being left alone for significant periods of time. In countries like the UK and USA, child isolation intensifies in the Summer months coinciding with a lot of the new, video game releases. I remember my own youth that Summer meant fort building and playing outdoor games, but it also meant a lot of my peers were inside under the glow of a computer screen.
Peer Pressure and the Influence of Others
A recent study by the National Institute of Health in the USA found that teenage video game addiction could be linked to peer influence. The study found that a significant amount of adolescent boys increased their video game playing time in response to their peers playing longer.
No Stress, No Worries
I don’t know if you remember, but being a kid is stressful. Nowadays, with social media and more mass media bombardment, there’s even more reason to feel insecure and unsure. Video games are escapism.
Engaging with digital technology allows a kid to be something or someone else, adding adventure and diversion from anything happening. While escapism is ok in small doses, it is detrimental in the long-term, like my college roommate found out.
Is it Possible to Reduce or Eliminate Their Gaming Time?
The situation and outlook seem rather difficult. As technology improves, video games will just become more accessible as well as more engaging and visually appealing. However, there’s no need to worry, through determination and time, there are various solutions to get your child’s video game habit under control.
Here are some ways how to get your child to stop playing video games:
Impose Fixed Limits
Specific and firm guidelines are vital in changing or encouraging behaviour in kids. Informing your child they are allowed to play for a certain amount of time (ex: 1 hour) and then setting a timer ensures compliance and measurability of your directive. It’s important that all guardians and caregivers are consistent with this approach.
Also, gaming is a reward, not essential. Children should finish their schoolwork and associated chores before playing.
Introduce Other Hobbies
As mentioned above, kids choose video games because they allow them to get an instant result. They push the button and the avatar on-screen performs an action.
The same can be said for a musical instrument. Different keys or chords produce different sounds. Perhaps getting your child signed up for guitar lessons can be a means to wean them off gaming. Even more of a compromise is using the hardware to redirect their energy. Learning apps like Simply Piano make learning into a game and allow your child to build real skills.
Increase Family Time
Previously mentioned that the lack of parental involvement contributes to teenage video game addiction. So make time. Take them on a screen-free road trip.
When I was growing up, my parents always took my siblings and me on weekend walks. As a parent myself now, every Sunday I take my own son on a nature hike. It’s a great way to start the new week with exercise and allows us to catch up.
Introduce a Monetary Incentive
Everyone likes rewards. Oftentimes in video games, completing a task gives the player virtual currency. What if your child could earn real money instead?
If they are old enough, try persuading them to get a part-time job and, at almost any age, they can start a side project (i.e. Mowing lawns, raking leaves, power washing houses, etc.). As a parent, you can be supportive by helping them with some of the finer points of the business world (i.e. promotion, accounting, design, etc.)
Join a Parental Support Group
You are not alone. Forbes estimates that the video game industry will generate over $300 billion in the next, few years. It’s big business and one predicated on getting players to start and then keeping them gaming. As such, there are millions of parents who have children caught in this cycle. Looking in your local community (especially your child’s school as that will also provide real-life playdate opportunities) as well as online can prove to be an invaluable resource.
Consult a Medical Professional
As the study of video game addiction is still at the onset, there is continuously new research emerging. Furthermore, teenage video game addiction can be linked to other issues that may not be as apparent or easy for a parent to discover. Involving more professionals on how to get your child to stop playing video games could be the key to a breakthrough. In the UK, they have even launched the National Centre for Gaming Disorders while many private clinics, especially in the USA, have developed programs specifically targeted for video game addiction.
As with any problem, a positive approach is important for solving the issue. But your child CAN beat their addiction. My former friend went back home, got help from supportive parents, and returned to get his degree and moved on to a productive life with a wife and kids of his own. Addressing the issue as soon as possible is the best way to give your child a chance to recover and redirect them to a fulfilled life.