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Why Your Child Doesn’t See Their Video Game Addiction As a Problem

Your child’s grades are suffering, they don’t have friends outside of school, and they are always irritable at home! But they say they’re “fine” and that you should just leave them alone. What’s going on?

young elementary school boy playing online video games on his PC with headphones on

This is a scenario that plays out in many homes and is something I see often in my practice. Video games may become one of the only things a child wants to do, which tempts parents to try to find ways to stop it altogether. It makes sense to think your child would be much more productive without video games and that they are wasting their potential by playing endless hours of gaming.

Maybe you feel that outside of playing video games, your child doesn’t seem to be particularly happy in life. You might wonder if even video games make them happy? The answer is usually no, as hyper-focused gamers are usually not happy. Your child may deny it in front of you, but often, real life is dissatisfying to them in one way or another, and their solution to dealing with those feelings is to try to dismiss them completely or convince themselves it’s not worth the trouble to think about them. They also may feel too ashamed, fearful of consequences, or confused about exactly what’s wrong to talk to you about it.

If we want to help them, we must start with understanding the role gaming plays in their sense of self. Please note, there are many ways to help you limit or restrict your child’s gaming. This blog is not going to address those methods. I want to present some of the psychological issues I see so that you might be able to understand more about what’s happening on the inside for a child or teen who is overusing technology.

Video Games Can Become the Primary Source of a Child’s “Needs Fulfillment.”

In real life, they may be embarrassed by their emerging identity or body, or they may struggle socially.

  • Video games may fulfill some of your child’s needs, thus becoming coping mechanisms for life’s difficulties. Interestingly, video games may not even do a good job at fulfilling those needs, but if it is the best option they have, then they’ll take it.

  • Gaming allows your child to customize an experience tailored to what they desire. This may happen when they develop proficiency in a skill, feel esteemed in a group setting.

  • They may play games simply because nothing else in life excites them.

Before taking video games away, consider the needs your child is having fulfilled by the video game. Maybe socializing on the internet playing video games is one of only places your child feels confident socializing. What if socializing through gaming is the only socializing, they feel comfortable with?

Maybe they’ve built an identity online that makes them feel happy, instead of real life where they dislike who they are. For example, do people rely on them in the game? Your child might play an important part in a video game that requires a coordinated group of people.

If you are surprised by the harsh and huge temper your child has when you stop them from playing games, it is probably because these games aren’t just games to them.


On Electronics Restrictions

You may be attracted to completely restricting your child’s electronics to help promote a healthier relationship with gaming. Beware that this can backfire, so you have to tread lightly at first and create a partnership. Ideally, as you address the issue of overuse with the concept of balance, your child will learn to respect the agreed upon amount of time allocated for electronic usage and understand that it’s a privilege.

Complete restriction of gaming can backfire because this often leads to a parent vs. child dynamic where you must become an enforcer, and the child becomes something to be controlled.

  • This dynamic negatively affects the relationship between parents and children, and it can lead to a war mentality in which you keep increasing security and restricting electronics while the child’s deceptions become greater and greater.

  • Additionally, the parent's goal is to prepare the child for adulthood, and trying to be the sole enforcer of restrictions takes away an excellent opportunity for your child to regulate and manage themselves.

  • To achieve any form of sustained sobriety, the child must want to change as well. This is the tricky part because, at first, they won’t want to. That’s why working together to create a better balance of enjoyable activities can be helpful.

What can parents do? It begins with understanding the child. By getting this far into the article, you hopefully have a better grasp of why gaming is so attractive to them and how much of their current identity is based on it. The next step is having an open conversation with your child.

5 Approaches Parents Can Try with Their Children About Overuse of Video Games

  1. Form an alliance. Let them know you hear them and are on the same team with them. If you try to ask about your child’s gaming issue with an antagonistic attitude, they will likely deny they have a problem. If your child admits they are unhappy and that gaming is part of the equation, then they might fear telling you because it might give you ammunition and even more reason to take video games away from them.

  2. Approach them in a non-judgmental manner.  I recommend assuring them you won’t take away their games altogether. You want to understand what is going on. “What is it about games that you like?” Ask things with the goal of figuring out together which needs are not being fulfilled and work together to figure out what can be done to help the child meet those needs. Some kids genuinely struggle with figuring out what’s wrong and need extra investigation to deduce the problem.

  3. Use words that help them feel heard.  For example, “It sounds like you are a leader in that game, and others rely on you.” Or “I can see why showing up for that game is important because your friends are counting on you.” Model the behavior you want to see in your child, and you may be surprised to that they eventually want to make you feel heard and seen one day!

  4. Besides tackling the overuse of electronics directly, look at big-picture issues. Maybe there is a large external factor affecting your child. For example, maybe an academically intensive school is not the right fit for your child and switching schools would help tremendously with their stress and anxiety.

  5. Think outside the box. If your child still refuses to talk to you about their issues, then think about what’s not working? Have you become a broken record? Let’s say you have some good practical advice that your child hears a lot from you. Maybe they’ve developed a habit of tuning you out when you mention that advice. If so, it probably won’t be helpful. Instead, try listening to their thoughts and suggestions to gain an understanding of what approach might work. If they are not ready to make changes, then you might have to set some limits or require them to participate in other activities. When you can move forward in partnership, though, it always works better. Sometimes having a therapist involved can help. A therapist’s job is to be non-judgmental and understanding, form an alliance with the child, and make them feel heard and seen. Getting your child to a therapist could be the right call if you feel a third-party would be helpful. The child’s issues might be about something they are not comfortable sharing with you.

As a therapist, I often hear from parents that their child(ren) used to be happier, they used to keep up with responsibilities more, and their relationship with them used to be much better. And then life threw something at the child that they have trouble dealing with. Often that something is part of the natural developmental process like puberty or onset of adolescence. Gaming can serve as a way for them to battle insecurities, but clearly, overindulgence in gaming can negatively affect them.

Video game/electronics addiction is a difficult beast to tame, and you are not alone in dealing with your child’s struggles with gaming. I hope these tips and words of encouragement will help your child attain a life balance that brings them satisfaction and fulfillment outside of gaming.

I wish you all the best! Good luck out there!

Jack is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate, supervised by Stefanie C. Barthmare, LPC-S.

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