Video games stimulate the parts of the brain responsible for impulses and rewards. As a result, video game addiction is a condition with symptoms similar to drug abuse. The World Health Organization defines gaming disorder as a mental health condition that impairs educational, familial, personal, occupational and other functionality in the real world. Here are five ways for parents and family members to help teens addicted to video games.
1. Track and Limit Game Time
Start by monitoring gameplay. Parents should move a computer or console to a location where family members can keep track of the amount of time a teen spends playing games. Set firm limits reinforced with a timer, productivity software or programs that make it possible to block or disable games on a computer or device.
It may also be helpful to require a teen to log the amount of time he or she spends gaming every day. Increased awareness of the passage of time can serve as a wake-up call to the opportunity costs of gaming addiction.
2. Maintain Firm Consequences
Teens should face firm and consistent consequences for exceeding agreed-upon gaming time or gaming without satisfying the necessary conditions, such as chores, homework or grades. Inconsistent consequences can create a slippery slope toward pushing boundaries.
Parents and teens should agree on consequences ranging from uninstalling a computer game to locking up or removing a console or device from the home. Parents and family members should alert players when the allotted time is almost up so that they can wrap up activities and refrain from starting new challenges.
3. Put Gaming in Perspective
Addiction emerges when players become reliant on the cycle of challenges and rewards that games reliably provide. Family members and friends should make an effort to involve teens addicted to video games in other pastimes.
Improving a teenager’s mind-body balance can regulate some of the emotional and mental factors that cause gaming addiction. Reading or learning to play a musical instrument may provide off-screen mental stimulation and rewards. Learning to code can also be a rewarding opportunity for teens interested in gaming that can pave the way toward a fulfilling career.
4. Look Out For Social and Open-Ended Games
Online games with social components pose an increased risk of addiction. These immersive programs encourage players to pursue achievements and participate in events that require substantial time commitments. Gamers are drawn in by a need for connection and feelings of competence and control.
Players of social games share a sense of mutual responsibility and reinforcement that makes it harder to log off or quit. Parents may want to discourage these games if a teen is prone to addiction. Even open-ended single player games or games that are hard to stop or pause may not be ideal. Opt for games with short, timed rounds that encourage play in short bursts rather than marathon sessions.
5. Support Moderate Play
Healthy video game use can strengthen cognitive skills and improve academic performance, social skills and self-esteem. An Oxford University study has suggested that up to one hour per day of play can be more beneficial than watching television. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours per day spent looking at screens for non-academic purposes, which adds up to seven to 14 hours per week. The 2016 American Time Use Survey found that gamers played for more than two hours per day.
Parents should be aware of the current medical consensus on video game addiction. While the World Health Organization recognizes gaming disorder as a condition, the American Psychiatric Association maintains that insufficient evidence is available to classify this condition as a unique disorder. Unlike other addictions, an overreliance on gaming can go away on its own without treatment. Gamers tend to experience short bursts of obsessive interest that fade away and addiction affects less than 1 percent of the population. For this small percentage, however, video game addiction poses a serious problem.
Parents and families struggling with teens addicted to video games should start by taking these five measures. If these methods do not help, it may be worthwhile to make an appointment with a therapist. Quick and decisive intervention is necessary to address the underlying conditions that cause addiction.