Episode #79 – How can I tell if my child is addicted to video games?
“My 8 year old son is out of control. The only time he is happy is when he’s playing video games. I’ve tried to set boundaries and limit what and when he plays but he is so sneaky. When I tell him it’s time to turn it off, he gets violent: swearing, yelling, throwing things, completely out of control. I’m at my wits end with this kid. It seems to be getting worse. His cousins were with us for the last 6 weeks and just left. It could have something to do with it as he doesn’t like change but why can’t he just say he’s sad? When I try to talk to him he tells me to shut up and leave him alone.
The other night I found him up in the middle of the night trying to sneak on to Roblox. I took it away from him and he lost it. I just held him and told him we would figure this out and I’m sorry he’s having such a hard time. He cried and said he was sad. I felt like this was a victory but I still don’t know what to do. Today I gave him only ONE HOUR of video games and he was a nightmare after. How can I tell if my child is addicted to video games?”
Parent Education Answer: Here are some signs to look for in video game addiction in your kids.
- Addiction Symptoms: Anger, lying, sneaking and manipulation to try and get more play time.
- An explosion of anger or aggression directed at the person who has taken away the game.
- Preoccupation with video games when not playing.
- Difficulty becoming absorbed in other activities. Seems restless or anxious until back in the game.
- Loses track of time while on electronics. Does not follow time limits.
- A change in mood. Cranky unless playing video games.
- Loss of interest in other activities.
- Declining interest in school performance, personal hygiene and/or difficulty sleeping.
It sounds like your son isn’t able to cope with video games at this point in time. Some kids, especially those with a brain centered difference like ADHD, get overstimulated and cannot regulate their bodies, behaviors or mood. The solution is a digital detox. A complete removal of electronic games until his brain matures and you know he can handle it.
Video games produce massive amounts of dopamine, the reward chemical in the brain that keeps us coming back for more. But the more time they spend on video games, the more tolerance gets built up, meaning they have to have more intensity, more excitement, in order to get the same level of dopamine they got in the beginning.
Life Coaching Answer: What gets in our way from giving our child the gift of a digital detox?
Life. Pandemics. Siblings. A need for sanity. Jobs. Online schooling. SO. MANY. THINGS.
In order to completely remove all video games from our child’s life, it requires a major upheaval to our lifestyle. So many of us are dependent on those games to occupy our kids so we can get some peace and quiet. To imagine life without video games, especially while so many other extra curricular activities have been taken away, sounds impossible.
Just like an alcoholic may need to reach rock bottom before acknowledging a problem. A mom might need to reach rock bottom before finally committing to a complete digital detox. Usually she will start by limiting the time spent. When even an hour per day is too much, it may be time to take it seriously and go cold turkey. No video games ever. No phones. No ipads. No xbox.
You can see how it goes having TV but keep it to slow paced, boring shows.
Learn as much as you can about addiction. Talk to an addiction specialist. Have an outside expert help explain to your son what’s happening in his brain and how you and his Dad are going to help him. Make sure your whole family is on board. By this point, everyone else in the family is aware of his behavior problems so they will understand the need for a detox. Make sure the siblings understand how much better their lives will be without video games around.
Brainstorm ideas with the whole family and make a list of fun activities: board games, puzzles, outings, etc. Think about things close to nature: camp in the backyard, swim, walk in a creek, build a campfire, etc. The best way to do a digital detox is to spend lots of time outside. Nature is always in harmony so when we are in nature, it entrains our brains to move into harmony also.
He may need something intense to engage his brain. Try to help him engage in learning a new skill: skateboarding, building with K’nex or a 3-D pen, hip hop dance moves, etc.
Have other people lined up to help give you a break: babysitters, out-of-work camp counselors, teens or college students. .
During your digital detox, let go of your expectations to clean house, cook healthy, or have things go smoothly and happily. This is a difficult challenge to undertake but the reward of a happy, healthy kid is well worth it.
Expect your child’s behavior to get worse before it gets better but know it is worth it to get your boy back. You will be witnessing the detoxification effects and it won’t be pretty. He does not like feeling out of control with his mood, emotions and behavior anymore than you like it. The long term benefit here outweighs the short term inconvenience.
Use this as an opportunity to become closer as a family. When we fully accept our children as they are and adapt to their changing needs, we feel peaceful and proud of ourselves.
Supermom Kryptonite: Thinking he can handle “just a little bit”.
There is a reason why alcoholics anonymous suggests complete abstinence. If you are addicted to alcohol, the sight, smell and sound of it starts the dopamine release. Once your brain starts pumping those chemicals, it CRAVES more. Suddenly you are hooked and the lying, manipulating, sneaking begin.
Gambling addicts don’t work in casinos. Porn addicts struggle to feel satisfied in real relationships. It is much easier to detox from electronics when it isn’t an option at all.
I would not keep these games or controllers in the house at all. I would store computer and ipads at a friend’s house. I would take any games off my phone. Even seeing a device or knowing it’s in the next room can keep him hooked in and his brain producing dopamine.
This is another reason why nature is helpful. When camping at the beach or in the woods, he will have no association with electronic devices and you will start to see glimpses of your sweet boy returning to you.
Sometimes emergencies are nice because they take us out of mind clutter and immediately help us prioritize. When we can look at situation like yours and think, “My son is struggling. His behavior is a cry for help.” We feel compassionate, motivated and put on our Supermom cape and get to work.
This superpower and it’s a wonderful skill to have, but it isn’t sustainable. As you are planning your digital detox and preparing activities for bored, anxious kids, make sure you also are scheduling breaks for yourself. With this much intensity, a two hour break isn’t going to cut it. Try and give yourself one day a week all to yourself, or a whole weekend. Hire someone to entertain your kids without electronics. You will need to refuel your tank in order to not give in to your child’s addiction.
Quote of the Day:
“In an agricultural society, or during a time of exploration and settlement, or hunting and fathering–which is to say, most of mankind’s history–energetic boys were particularly prized for their strength, speed, and agility. […] As recently as the 1950s, most families still had some kind of agricultural connection. Many of these children, girls as well as boys, would have been directing their energy and physicality in constructive ways: doing farm chores, baling hay, splashing in the swimming hole, climbing trees, racing to the sandlot for a game of baseball. Their unregimented play would have been steeped in nature.”
― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder