Does your preteen or teenager play video games? Do you think they play them excessively? The line between “hobby” and “addiction” can be very difficult for parents to define, let alone prevent their teens from crossing. While addiction takes place in the brain and affects each person a bit differently, there are some actions you can take, as a parent, to prevent and minimize the effects of a video gaming addiction. Read on to find out what you can do to help your child avoid spiraling into a video gaming addiction.
Be Aware of the Signs of Video Gaming Addiction
What each parent considers reasonable use of video games can vary, so it’s important to know the signs that your teen’s hobby is becoming more of a dependency or even an addiction. Teens who love playing video games might play for a few hours each day. If your teen is simply enjoying the hobby, his or her grades are good, they have a part-time job or participate in extracurricular activities, and they participate in family outings and activities. If all of these things are true, then it’s likely that their video gaming is a hobby that they are able to walk away from when desired or needed.
If, on the other hand, your teen is spending increasingly more time playing games to the detriment of grades, sports practice, a job, chores around the house, and relationships with friends and family members, then that’s a pretty clear indicator that he or she is beginning to depend too heavily on the games. A video gaming addiction can take over much of your teen’s free time, so he or she will likely neglect schoolwork, friends, family, and various obligations.
If your teen is lying about how much time they play, feeling guilty about the games, or otherwise experiencing negative effects from video gaming, these are signs that there might be a video gaming addiction developing.
Develop and Enforce Reasonable Limits
Placing some limits on your teen’s video gaming can go a long way toward preventing an addiction. Some of these limits will depend on your teenager’s age; a younger teen needs more limits and supervision than a 17- or 18-year-old. Teens of all ages can benefit from not allowing video game systems or computers in their bedrooms. Not only will this cut down on the amount of time your teen spends on the system but it will also allow you to supervise what they’re doing. In addition, there’s evidence that keeping these devices out of the bedrooms will aid your teen in getting better sleep, too.
You can also place a limit on the amount of time that your teen is allowed to play. This will vary from family to family; you might consider a daily or a weekly limit. Some parents do not allow video game play on weekdays during the school year, while others don’t mind if their children play as long as homework and chores are done. Whatever you decide, expect some pushback and be prepared to enforce the rules with strong boundaries and, if necessary, consequences.
Encourage Your Teen to Try Other Activities
Some teens get into the habit of playing video games excessively because they are bored. If your teen has a hard time finding something more constructive to do, he or she might need some ideas. During the school year, there are usually a lot of opportunities for extracurricular activities in addition to schoolwork. On breaks, however, particularly during the long summer break, teens can get bored and frustrated if they don’t have anything to do. Consider suggesting some of the following.
Getting a Job
Teenagers can either apply for jobs at local retail stores and restaurants or they could begin an entrepreneurial venture. Walking dogs, babysitting, mowing lawns, and doing odd jobs around other people’s houses are great and time-honored ways for adolescents to earn extra money; your teen might come up with his or her own ideas, too. There are also teen-friendly jobs such as those at the community pool, movie theater, or miniature golf course.
Encourage your teen to devote some of his or her time to a favorite cause. Your teen might enjoy repairing homes for the needy, serving at a local church, cuddling homeless cats, or serving food to homeless people. Talk to the local community center or your preferred religious organization for ideas.
Fun Outings With Friends
There are many activities that your teen might enjoy with friends. Many towns sponsor “music at the park” or a similar musical appreciation party. Also, check in with your local library; many offer teen programs during the summer. Teens under 16 can bowl for free in some places, and some movie theaters offer G and PG-rated movies for free or for a dollar or two during the summer. Offer to drop teens off at a community center or local pool once per week for a regular, unstructured activity.
Have Periodic Breaks From All Gaming
Your teenager might balk at being asked to go cold turkey on his or her gaming, but if you have regular breaks scheduled, that can help. Summer vacations offer one easy way to put a temporary kibosh on video games: Whether you’re camping in the wilderness, exploring New York City, or visiting the grandparents in another town or state, not having access to video games will force your teen to focus on something else.
You could also have screen-free evenings each week or a game-free weekend each month. Having these scheduled breaks gives your teen a chance to step away from the possibility of gaming for a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks at a time and find something else to do.
Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out For Help
If you are worried that your teenager has a video gaming addiction despite your best efforts to prevent one, talk to his or her physician or mental health professional. They will have suggestions that can help your teen move past this addiction. In some cases, a residential treatment center might be the best option. Address this before your teen reaches adulthood to prevent the issue from negatively impacting his or her job, relationships, and other facets of life.