Video games and an online presence has become the norm for everyone, even young children are starting to find their way but do you ever worry your child is spending too much time playing games? Ciaran O’Connor a psychotherapist and game designer shares his 6 tips for dealing with gaming addiction. (See also: 5 tips to prevent tech addiction in your child.)
If your child has an uncomfortable reliance on video games then you are likely to be facing a more overt challenge to your relationship when you decide to step in and help them control the gaming. Laying down rules or boundaries for how and when they can game will typically create a well of conflict. The following advice should help you to ride through that process as smoothly and as lovingly as possible.
How to help children with gaming addiction
1. Give regular affirmation and encouragement
Nearly everyone that ends up addicted to video games is dealing with a poor self-image. As a result it is vital to regularly do what you can to bolster their perception of themselves. Whenever they do something particularly well, tell them so; particularly if they have shown control and restraint around video gaming. Above all make sure you take them time to tell them how important they are to you and how much you care about them. The more they feel valued by those close to them the easier it will become for them to value and feel comfortable with themselves.
2. Model healthy behaviour
Review your own lifestyle before you embark on trying to help someone with their addiction to games. Do you have your own poison? Considering all forms of addiction, do you use another form of excess to hide or indulge in? Unless you are displaying a lifestyle that is free from using excess as a coping mechanism your are going to be implicitly endorsing the gamer’s addiction. In addition, if you find that you are struggling to keep your emotions under control, then get the help you need to balance yourself out. Then you offer the foundations for your child to live in healthier ways.
3. Care about your child through their games
If your child spends every available minute on GTA5 there is a huge temptation to treat the game as your enemy; redirecting the pain of missing out on time with them toward the game. By attacking their games as stupid, childish, a waste of time etc., you are, in turn, making a comment about them and thereby further reducing both their self-confidence and your relationship. If a loved one is engrossed in gaming, then make sure you show an interest in their hobby, especially if you are laying down rules as to how it should be played.
4. Don’t be tyrannised by the need to be liked
Sometimes it can feel like a relief to have your angry, upset son divert his attention from attacking you to playing on his PC or console for days at a time. For many young people, the act of hiding away is at the same time both a protest against the hardships of growing up and a plea for someone to come and show that, despite everything, they still love and care for them. Don’t be lulled into thinking that just because someone has run away from you doesn’t mean they don’t want you to run after them. Getting their behaviour under control will benefit them in the long run, remember that.
5. Aim to be good enough, not perfect
Don’t get caught up trying to be a perfect parent. Any rules you create as to how much and when they can game will undoubtedly annoy your child in some way. Concentrate on doing something, not nothing, and remember that you are aiming for good enough, not perfect. If you child keeps finding ways to override your rules remember that by remaining consistent with your concern you will leave them with a message of care that will stay with them as they grow older.
6. Present as a united front
How much your son/daughter should game is almost certainly going to be a subject upon which you and your partner are going to be divided. When you talk to your child about their gaming or gaming addiction, make sure that you and your partner are on the same page. If you don’t, you will give your child a way to subvert your rules by siding with the ‘softer’ guardian; this will inevitably cause tension and worsen the living conditions all round.
Ciaran O’Connor is a psychotherapist and game designer working in Brighton, UK. His book Control the Controller: Understanding and Resolving Video Game Addiction, describes the signs, causes and steps to help recover from problematic or addicted video gaming and is due to be published in October.