I talked to some moms recently who have dealt with a child who was addicted to internet video gaming. This is a serious problem in these families, and impacts relationships within the family and the child’s future.
Video games are becoming increasingly complex, detailed, and compelling to a growing international audience of players. With better graphics, more realistic characters, and greater strategic challenges, it’s not surprising that some teens would rather play the latest video game than hang out with friends, play sports, or even watch television.
To understand the addictive quality of the games, you need to understand that a key driver in all of our behaviors is the need to be significant. That is what role-playing games offer, especially to young men, that they may be missing in their offline lives. As a team leader in a game such as World of Warcraft, a guy may experience the thrill of amassing an army of thousands, equipping each member, and putting together a winning strategy. That is significant. At least it is in that fantastic world of online gaming.
And as soon as one battle is won, it’s on to the next battle. The game is never over, and then the next battle, and the next, and more winnings, and more. And as he wins battles and points, and levels, he makes friends. Online friends are real friends, just as fellow bloggers are friends. It’s the activity that is different.
Of course, not all gamers are addicts. Many teens and young adults can play video games a few hours a week, successfully balancing school activities, work, friends, and family relationships. But for some, gaming has become an uncontrollable compulsion. Studies estimate that 10-15 percent of gamers exhibit signs that meet the World Health Organization’s criteria for addiction. Just like gambling and other compulsive behaviors, teens can become so caught up in the fantasy world of gaming that they neglect their family, friends, work, and school (American Nursing Association).
When a young person is first introduced to a new online game, it’s not unusual to be excited about it, and play it a lot. That’s not addiction. Addiction is when the activity has an adverse affect on the person’s life, and he or she can’t stop anyway.
Here are 10 signs that gaming has become an addiction:
1. Exorbitant time spent in playing online.
2. Preoccupation that lasts beyond healthy, new excitement.
3. Lying about gaming use.
4. Disobedience to time and other limits.
5. Diminished interest in offline activities with face-to-face friends.
6. Decreased personal hygiene, sleeping, eating. Withdrawal from family and friends.
7. Neglect of work and school.
8. Cannot find pleasure in any activity besides online gaming.
9. Psychological withdrawal from the game when not playing.
10. Continuing to play despite its negative physical, emotional, occupational, or relational consequences.
One mom told me that her son had enlisted in the military right out of high school. She was deservedly proud of him for his service. When he came home from a deployment, though, he was suffering from PTSD and depression from some of his experiences. He withdrew from his family and started playing online role-playing games.
Here was this wonderful, young man, a veteran and a believer, spending his days and many of his evenings playing an online role-playing game. He was using the game to escape his depression, and was not even looking for a job.
Another mom sent her son off to college, and after three semesters, he flunked completely out because he had become absolutely hooked on online gaming. He was back home, not working at all, not going to classes, hardly bathing, and rarely eating meals with the family. He had lost an alarming amount of weight. She didn’t know what to do.
These are just two examples of many I know, so you probably know some stories also. What should parents do? I would suggest these steps:
1. Pray with your spouse (if you have one) about how to proceed. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
2. If your child is a young teen, or not yet an adult, it will be easier for you to talk him or her through the process and to put rules in place for this process, but do not take a dictatorial attitude toward this.
3. Consider your relationship with your child, along with the recent circumstances of your child’s life. Has there been a traumatic event? Is there sufficient social activity in his/her life? Might your child be depressed? If your child is depressed, he or she might need pastoral or professional care.
4. The most important thing is your relationship with your child. Do not judge your child for getting entangled in an activity that is fun, engaging and interactive.
5. Be more involved in your child’s life going forward.
6. Keep all laptops and computers in common areas of the house. None should be in your child’s bedroom.
7. Be aware if the screen on the monitor suddenly changes when you walk in the room, your child is probably hiding what they were recently doing online.
8. Set time limits for online activities, and then stick to the rules. You have to be the mom. Do not cave.
9. Finally, if your child’s use of online gaming is detrimental to his/her future or well-being I believe you should consider in the end taking away his/her computer and even disconnecting the internet service at your home.
I spoke with a mom who was unwilling to do that, even though her young adult son was sitting at home, not working, not going to college, not doing anything but playing an online RPG. When I asked her why she was unwilling to step in there, remove the internet, or anything, her reply was, “I can’t do that. He’s an adult!” I know another mom who did just that, and it served her son well. He was very angry in the beginning, especially at his dad, but, he re-enrolled in college, graduated, got a job, and is doing very well today.
So, moms, have you had any experiences with internet or online gaming addiction? How far would you go to intervene for your child?