My son is 13 and does very well in school, but I’m worried that he is becoming separated from the world socially because of the video games he plays constantly. From the moment he gets home from school, he is on his tablet. If I try to take it away, he throws a tantrum. I want him to start interacting with other kids and enjoying his real life.
For non-gamers, video games can seem something of an enigma; why would anybody actively choose to spend their time seemingly accomplishing nothing within the confines of a virtual world rather than the real one? I think the answer lies more in looking at what young people do enjoy about the games they play and less about making assumptions that everything to do with games is negative.
Gaming addiction is about the way these games insidiously creep into every aspect of your child’s life, because of the nature of the way challenges are built into them.
In fact, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that video games, like other visual mediums, can have positive effects on your son’s mental development – encouraging problem-solving skills, and allowing him to hone his reactions and mental agility. The caveat to this is that they are best enjoyed in moderation and that’s where you come in.
The addictive qualities in video games come from three core elements of the experience: interactivity, instant gratification and repetition. All of these things stimulate the brain, and give the player a sense of accomplishment.
Your son will, no doubt, be getting satisfaction from playing these video games, but clearly his use of them has become completely out of balance, and it’s time to take action and try to wean him off them. Most video game producers recommend that players enjoy their games for no more than an hour at a time, and that they take regular breaks, about every 20 minutes.
As you rightly point out, the fact that he is spending so much time in this virtual world means he has very little time for social interaction with his peers, which is so important at his age. Added to which, the physical effects of sitting for prolonged periods mean that he’s missing out on sports and this could have a detrimental effect on his health and well-being. We can see this in his emotional responses to being asked to stop playing.
First, familiarise yourself with which games he’s playing, and why you think he enjoys them. Knowledge is key to help combat this issue – while the majority of games are created purely for the end-user’s enjoyment, some are even specifically designed to ensnare players to squeeze more money out of them. But with the proliferation of new technologies, in particular smartphones and tablets, new types of video games are now at equal levels of addictiveness.
These new, so-called ‘free to play’ games have been controversial from the outset, because they often present the player with nigh-impossible tasks and thus offer the option to bypass these with ‘in-app purchases’, which can occasionally trick certain children into handing over their parent’s credit card!
Whatever types of games he is playing, it is imperative that you know exactly the type of game he is obsessed with.
Now is the time to start being firm but fair with your son.
At 13, he is still a child, and must respect the boundaries you set. You need to take time to talk to him on his level. Without being confrontational, tell him your concerns. Explain the importance of moderation, and gently break the news that you’re going to curb the use of his gaming devices.
I suggest you limit his gaming to no more than an hour and a half per weekday, with an extra hour on weekends. If he cries at this news, or throws a tantrum, you must stand your ground.
Remember, tantrums are often employed by children to try to guilt their parents into giving into their demands.
But remember that limiting his gaming time will have positive effects.
Irrespective of the response he gives you, engage him in alternative activities and hobbies he can enjoy, perhaps even with the rest of the family.