Video Game Addiction

Video Game Addiction

You might not want to take advice from me, since my 21-year-old son, a video game addict, is currently unemployed and living in my basement.

But before you click away, let me back up and give you some of the history.

This 21-year-old son of mine is brilliant. All of my kids are smart, if I do say so myself, but this child is exceptionally brilliant.

We homeschool, and I’d watch him put almost no effort into difficult subjects and come away with a thorough understanding. At the age of 14 he passed the AP Calculus test with flying colors, having barely studied the materials I provided.

I had nothing more to offer him so he completed his associates degree during high school, while living at home. For winning a science fair with his ‘Graphene Supercapacitors’ project, he earned a full-tuition scholarship to his first choice (very prestigious) university. He read books on String Theory for fun.

He earned a second full-tuition academic scholarship for his 35 ACT score (universities place very little weight on homeschool transcripts), a private scholarship for science/tech/math students (he planned to study astrophysics) and a fourth scholarship from the state for other academic achievements.

This kid was making bank! His tuition, books, room and board were covered, plus he could cash out several thousand each semester at the university financial office (the overage after his tuition and fees were paid).

How many kids get paid to attend university?

But then he stopped showing up for classes.

Of course, he told us he was going. He told us about his awesome grades and his new friends and his fascinating study groups. He told us about his teachers and his tests. He always had answers to my questions about university life.

And then I started getting bills because my name was on his housing contract as a guarantor (privacy laws prohibit universities from contacting parents about poor grades, non-attendance, behavorial difficulties or pretty much anything). My son assured me that his apartment manager had made an error — of course he had paid his rent.

After that, bill collectors started calling. At first I thought they were some sort of phishing scam, but after really talking with one, I realized that my son had loans I didn’t know about and wasn’t making his payments.


I may have made everything sound hunky dory above, while talking about this sons academics. It wasn’t. Academics were my son’s strength and he excels academically with no effort. But the reality is that he has very little impulse control. He has trouble disciplining himself to even want to do hard things, let alone following through.

He’s been that way since he was a toddler.

He could operate the TV by six months, but he didn’t learn to walk until fifteen months months.

I was a diligent mom and I knew better than to let him watch TV all day. So I limited the TV and electronic devices.

Still, every time I turned my back (or took a shower or went to bed at night), he’d turn the TV on. That’s when I dropped our TV off at Goodwill.

I didn’t give my kids phones or tablets until high school and even then I’d lock them up at night.

I also intentionally never bought a gaming system. No Nintendo, no Play Station, no Xbox, no Wii, nothing. A computer was a necessity, and it did have games, but we were careful about what we allowed. We also set time limits right from the start, which we adhered to religiously.

It wasn’t easy. My son preferred computer games to eating and sleeping. We had knock-down, drag-out fights. We’d wonder why he was falling asleep during the day only to find him on the computer in the middle of the night.

He’d steal from us, too. He spent thousands on our credit cards and lied when we got the bills. He is an excellent liar.

We changed passwords and programmed our router to shut off at 9pm and not to allow certain sites. We installed monitoring software. He learned how to hack them. I literally tied him to my apron strings and kept him with me every moment of every day. It was a nightmare.

We knew that keeping him under lock and key just prevented him from making bad decisions, it didn’t teach him how to make good decisions on his own. So we worked on character building.

We read classics together and talked about character and responsibility and virtues. We spent hours on our knees, praying. We even found a psychiatrist who specializes in impulse control disorders.

We also worked with him, teaching him how to budget and grocery shop and cook and clean. I’ve always taught my kids those life skills — it’s just the way I run my household — but I was extra deliberate and intentional with this kid.

All of our thoughtful, careful, loving training. All of those scholarships. All of that opportunity.

All of that potential.

I thought he had the whole world in his hands.

So the calls from the bill collectors and the bills from his apartment manager should have gobsmacked me. Sadly, I wasn’t all that surprised. But I was devastated.

A few months into the school year, we received an eviction notice from my sons apartment manager. Apparently he hadn’t paid rent in 3 months. Our son convinced us that he was still doing well at school, he just hadn’t been able to pay rent because of a problem at the scholarship office.

We desperately wanted to believe him, so we paid his rent and got him caught up. He spent the holidays telling us how well everything was going and how hard he was working and how much he loved his program. Second semester started and the same problems kept creeping up.

Finally, halfway through second semester, confronted with yet more bills, he admitted that he had flunked out of school and the two academic scholarships had been rescinded. He’d squandered the rest of the money on gaming, had taken out a loan, and hadn’t been paying his bills.

He’d never even attended his classes past the first week.

The minute we left after dropping him off at his apartment, helping him to unpack and buying him groceries, he’d begun gaming. And he’d gamed almost nonstop since.

I was more devastated than surprised.

He was still just as broken as ever.

He had caused so many problems at home (the constant stealing, lying and fighting was very contentious) during the preceding years, we didn’t know whether to let him move back home or not. We would joyfully make any sacrifice that would help him, but our previous sacrifices had apparently not helped.

You reach a point as a parent where, when your sacrifices are in vain, you have to stop making them for your own sanity. Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

We ultimately helped him financially to finish out the school year where he was, and then we helped him find a summer job at a national park, where he would live and work with other youth, supervised by a man we trusted, and without internet access. We hoped he could put his gaming addiction behind him.

He actually enjoyed that summer job and he professed to want help. He’d already blown his chance with his first choice university, but he wanted to try again at another university. The application deadline had already passed, but he said he’d apply as soon as possible.

For his sake, we hoped. But the next application deadline came and went, too. I thought about nagging him and helping him to apply, but didn’t figure it was in either of our best interest.

Last year was a little better in that he held down (sort of) a job and (mostly) took care of his own room and board. Even if he wasn’t in school, at least it was a step up from the previous year.

I don’t believe that everyone needs to earn a college degree. If a person is happy and successful on an entrepreneurial path, I’m all for that. But drifting from part-time job to part-time job so you can spend every waking minute gaming, and not even being able to feed or house yourself adequately is not a good life path for anyone.

This year has been bad again (another eviction notice last month).

Of course it has.

Broken things don’t typically get fixed by simply ignoring things or hoping.

I contemplated just not paying his rent and letting him hit rock bottom (believe me, we’ve let him hit rock bottom a couple of times), but being homeless won’t help him. I could see him getting swept up into drugs and alcohol.

So we did the only thing we could.

We brought him home.

He’s living in our basement. We’ve decided to try again because he says he wants help. He’s as tired of living this way as we are. He says he’s willing to make the necessary changes.

He’s not saved yet, but he submitted his application to another university (they let him apply as an incoming freshman rather than a transfer student, completely erasing his really horrible year and also qualifying him again for academic scholarships). He’s got a job interview tomorrow.

He’s also been working for us to pay for his room and board, and it’s been neat to watch him complete jobs with pride. He’s seeing his psychiatrist again and actually working on his weekly assignments — voluntarily!

I warned you in the beginning that I may not be the right person to listen to.

But maybe going through this process twice makes me just the person to listen to.

Maybe all of my reading and our countless hours of therapy and praying and dealing with this situation have made me somewhat of an expert on helping kids to overcome gaming addictions and a lack of impulse control.

What is a video game addiction?

Video game addiction is the compulsive use of video games in such a way that it negatively impacts other areas of the gamer’s life.  It’s classified as an impulse control disorder, similar to pathological gambling.


What causes a video game addiction?

Boys are born with an innate desire to fight battles, live adventures and perform heroic deeds. Video game creators know that. They want to make money, so they intentionally design games to exhilarate and addict.

Boys are constantly rewarded for heroic deeds with more powerful armor and weapons, greater strength and influence. The rewards are large and instantaneous. This is something that takes a lot of work to accomplish in the real world. What boy wouldn’t rather build a hut from pixels than honest-to-goodness heavy, dirty work?

Video games are filled with such exciting challenges and plot twists and turns that time just melts away. Instant gratification, effortless heroism, exciting challenges — it’s the perfect storm!

Those video game creators know just how to nab young boys. Give them the adventures and battles and instant gratification and rewards they crave but make it much easier than actually having to go out and face danger, and you’ve got a raving fan. One who is willing to give all his money (or his parents money) away for more.

Douglas Gentile’s 2009 study of Pathological Video-Game Use Among Youth Ages 8 to 18 found that boys are much more susceptible to gaming addictions. In another study, Stanford researchers watched the brains of 22 young people, using MRI machines, while they gamed. They found that gaming activated the reward centers of the brain in male subjects more than in females.

Nobody can pinpoint one exact, scientific reason for gaming addictions, but most experts agree that elevated dopamine levels contribute. Dopamine (the pleasure chemical) is released during activities people find pleasurable, like drug-use, exercise and eating certain foods. For certain people, playing video games creates an intense feeling of pleasure.

Experts also agree that people with certain personality disorders or disabilities, such as ADHD and Aspergers, are particularly susceptible to gaming addiction. In addition, there is a psychological component to compulsive gaming.

Some gamers retreat to a fantasy world to escape real-life troubles or to connect with people through the internet. Gamers who are unable to develop real-life relationships often use group gaming as a substitute for human connection. Any of these things, or a combination of them, can lead to a video game addiction.


How do I know if my child has a video game addiction?

Does your little guy lose his mind over the end of game time? Do pixels draw him in like a moth to flame?

Does he forego sleep and meals in order to watch someone else play video games? Is he thinking about gaming and talking about gaming when involved in other activities?

Are you worried?

If you think you have a problem, you probably do.

Mothers know.

It’s difficult to actually get a diagnosis, because video game addiction is a controversial idea for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s a relatively new phenomenon. There is a lack of long-term research so it’s hard to definitively conclude that that the overuse of video games is indeed an addiction.

Second, research is conflicting. Medical researchers have found excessive gaming to be potentially harmful, while research from the video game industry (which is backed by aggressive marketing) shows no ill effects.

My son would choose to game over sleeping, food or anything else. He would completely lose track of time and have no idea what was going on around him. He would lie to us and everyone else about how much he was gaming and about how much he was spending on gaming.

He lost his scholarships and his apartment and his friends and our trust. He would have ended up homeless if we hadn’t stepped in.

How can I prevent a video game addiction?

I don’t know if you can prevent a video game addiction in a person who is predisposed by a lack of impulse control. I was careful about TV viewing and gaming with my own children, and still my son ended up with a gaming addiction.  Kids sometimes make bad decisions no matter how well they’re taught.

However, I think the suggestions below for helping a child to overcome a video game addiction will also go a long way to helping prevent the addiction in the first place. In the case of children who don’t struggle with an impulse control disorder, the suggestions below should be enough.

How to stop video game addiction:

If you notice that your child is showing signs of being addicted to video games, these tips can help:

1. Substitute something better.

You can’t take away something that your child has spent so much time on daily and have it not leave a hole. That hole has to be filled with something that will be of greater benefit to your child, like learning to play an instrument, cultivating a talent, a physical activity or team sports.

Even just hanging out with friends is healthier than the isolation of gaming. The key is to ask for your child’s input. Help your child to think up a few ways he’d like to spend his time in place of gaming and help him build a healthier daily routine.

Another good substitution might be to allow your child to play educational games, classic arcade-style games, or explorative games but not the large scale, immersive games or role-playing games that are the most addictive. The objective there is to not forbid gaming entirely, but rather to replace it with games that are less potentially addictive simply because they are less rewarding.

2. Set restrictions.

Child development experts suggest limiting gaming to two hours per day. Personally, I think 14 hours a week is way too much time to waste on gaming, so I limit my kids to two hours a day on weekends only, and only after chores and practicing are finished. During the summer and holidays, I let my kids “earn” gaming time for completing extra chores above and beyond their regular chores.

Whatever you decide, sit your child down and discuss your decision so they know what to expect. When expectations and limits are communicated clearly and then enforced, kids are less likely to rebel.

If you decide to set restrictions, make sure you enforce them. It might be helpful to move the gaming console to a public area of your home so you can monitor the gaming more easily and enforce the limits you’ve set.

It will also help to set a timer so your child can’t argue when the buzzer goes off. Because kids get so caught up in their games, it’s easy to lose track of time. Teach your child that if he can exit the game responsibly, he’ll continue to have the privilege of gaming. If he has a fit or ignores the timer and makes you enforce the time limit, he loses the privilege.

3. Go “cold turkey”.

We tried this with our son when he went to work at a National Park over the summer. He told us repeatedly that he enjoyed not having access to his video games, which forced him to interact more with real people and to spend more time in nature.

It didn’t cure him entirely, obviously, because he returned to his gaming when the job ended. But it gave him something to reflect on and think about.

Getting rid of your gaming console probably won’t cure your child of a video game addiction any more than detoxing will cure a drug addict. But it removes the addictive substance so the addict has time to think clearly and make better choices about his own health.

Abstinence isn’t a great long-term option in our computer-driven society. Your child will have to carry a phone and use computers daily, so he needs to learn to control his own behavior now or he’ll regress as soon as he’s outside of your control.

Your child will need your help to learn better life skills, healthier thinking patterns and methods for controlling his own behavior in order to truly cure a video game addiction. Additionally, you might need professional help in order to really reach your child, especially if your relationship has been damaged by contention arising from excessive gaming.

4. Be present. 

Kids who feel loved and cherished thrive. They feel connected to a family team and don’t feel the need to go looking elsewhere for approval or connection.

Parents who are paying attention will notice when a child’s behavior changes and look for connections. If your child becomes more aggressive with family members while playing certain games, or immediately following cessation, those are probably not good games for your child.

Daily family life provides so many opportunities for family members to connect with each other. God could have made us like snakes, with the need to eat only once a week. Instead, He made our bodies so they need nourishment multiple times daily because He wanted families to sit down and connect with one another multiple times daily.

Family meals are one of the best opportunities to connect with your children. Another excellent opportunity for connections is family work. Choose a couple of nights a week to wash dishes together as a family by hand, or set aside a Saturday to build something together. Working together is an opportunity to talk and laugh and sing together.

5. Educate your child.

Restrictions can feel arbitrary to kids if they don’t understand the reasons behind the restriction. Teach them how important it is to have a good balance of outdoor exercise and sunshine, reading time, learning time and entertainment. Entertainment isn’t bad, but overdosing on it can be.

Teach your child the value of work and the even the value of boredom. Boredom enables us to quiet the part of our brain that talks all day and give the part that’s more creative a turn to talk.

Teach your child the real value of life outside of the games and how everything in the games is just pixels. None of what happens in there is real.

Should I eliminate gaming altogether?

Contrary to my own opinion that video game playing is a total waste of time, a recent Oxford University Study of 5000 children found that there are actually benefits to gaming for up to an hour a day. The study showed that children who play video games for less than an hour a day are more sociable and have fewer behavioral problems than children who don’t play at all.

Many researchers claim that playing video games is better for young children than watching TV because TV is so passive. Wii games encourage kids to be moderately active, and some games also build cognitive skills, eye-hand coordination, opportunities to explore and social opportunities.

So there are benefits to gaming, and it might be better than watching TV. But the benefits of tech free days are greater and longer lasting, in my opinion. In the end, this is a decision you’ll have to make together as a family so that everyone is on board with the decision.

Never give up.

Your child needs someone to believe in him. Making positive changes is always easier if you have someone in your corner, believing in you and fighting for you.

It takes a certain amount of maturity to be able to make good choices for yourself — things like choosing vegetables over candy or choosing to read a book instead of playing video games. Studies show that most people don’t reach mental maturity until the age of 25, and some much later.

Even past the age of 25, your child is not beyond hope. Prayer will bring you peace. God is bigger than a gaming addiction, and your son is also God’s son.

Pin these ‘ways to save your child from a video game addiction’ for later!

Have you dealt with a video game addiction? How did you handle it? Please share your ideas in the comments below!

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