Most teens enjoy gaming, but did you know that it’s possible to become addicted to this pastime? Young people are particularly vulnerable to what experts call Internet gaming disorder. The disorder is very similar to addiction, with video or Internet games as the obsessive factor instead of drugs or alcohol. National surveys and studies have found that as many as 8 percent of children and teens show signs of being pathological gamers. This means they play video games compulsively, lose interest in other activities, become withdrawn from others and experience distress when not able to play. Research has shown that teens considered to have a problem with gaming spend at least twice as much time gaming as other teens, have lower grades in school and suffer from more attention problems than their peers. If your teen is a gamer, here’s how you can keep it a normal activity and prevent it from becoming an addiction:
- Set time limits. Young people, and adults for that matter, are not always good at setting limits for themselves. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to set the rules and boundaries. Put a time limit on gaming each day or each week. If your teen breaks the rule, simply take away the gaming console or computer he uses. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends no more than two hours of any kind of screen time per day for children and teens.
- Encourage other activities. There’s nothing wrong with gaming, as long as it doesn’t take over your teen’s life. You can prevent that by encouraging him to get involved in a range of activities, like sports, academic teams, theater, art classes or whatever interests him most. Push activities that involve socializing with his peers since gaming is mostly a solo activity.
- Get involved with your teen. The most well-adjusted teens, and the ones most likely to make good choices generally, are those with healthy relationships with their parents. This doesn’t mean that you should hover, but be involved in your teen’s life. Do things together, have conversations about your values and making good choices and get involved with his interests, even if that means gaming occasionally. When you develop a good relationship with your teen, he will know that he can come to you with concerns and problems.
- Start family game night. A great way to spend more time with your teen and to reap the benefits of socializing together as a family is to have a weekly game night with good, old-fashioned board games. Your teen may balk at first, but he’ll soon remember how fun this style of gaming can be.
- Talk to your teen about gaming. Making all of these changes is great, but if you don’t explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, your teen will probably just be angry with you. He may be angry anyway, but you owe him an explanation for your motives. Talk to him about how gaming can become addictive, how it’s isolating and that being happy and healthy means having a range of activities and trying new things while socializing with other people in the real world.
Your teen won’t likely thank you right away for limiting his gaming time, but he will be better off in the long run. Raising a well-rounded, happy teen means that you are preparing him for living a life that is meaningful and satisfying, and that means not becoming obsessed with video games. Putting in the effort now prepares him for a better future.