Dear Ilana and Jess: I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this, but I need help getting my 13-year-old son, Tyler, off of video games. If he’s not at school, he’s in front of the computer, totally absorbed. He doesn’t seem to want to do anything but get on those games: He stopped making plans with friends, he doesn’t play his guitar anymore. Tyler was a good kid who always listened to me. Now, he’s trying to access his games 24/7. It’s all so unlike him. How do I break my son’s obsession with video games? — Jackie
Dear Jackie: There’s good reason why we hear this question a lot. Your suspicion that this is more than a compliance issue is correct. To help Tyler get off the games, you have to understand their appeal, first.
Video games activate the brain’s reward system. This means that Tyler gets an automatic mood boost anytime he plays. Pair game play with dopamine (a chemical responsible for happiness) enough and you’ve built yourself a very strong habit. For kids who have a diagnosis that affects self-regulation, like ADHD, detaching from video games is even harder.
In addition to the chemical kick the games give, there are a number of other rewards. Many of these games are structured to create a feeling of accomplishment and completion; this in of itself can be habit-forming. In addition, most of these games have a heavy social component, allowing users to connect with other players all over the world. It is the easiest social experience — removed of all risk, with companions built-in and no effort required.
At this stage, Tyler can’t effectively regulate his time on and off the games. That means it’s up to you to set the boundaries. Access to video games must be contingent upon compliance with daily tasks, including homework, chores, extracurricular commitments. Set parental controls that allow you to dictate when games can be accessed online. If these aren’t effective, keep electronics stowed away until Tyler is permitted to use video games. While this may seem like a lot, remember the importance of your task: you’re helping Tyler build a full and balanced life.
Regulate the amount of electronics time Tyler gets on a nightly basis. If Tyler usually plays for three hours, scale that time back to one hour. Set goals that engage Tyler in his social and creative outlets. These goals should pertain to rewards and, as you might guess, video games will be your best reinforcer. Allow Tyler to earn a (finite) amount of electronics time — 15 minutes — on top of the allotted, one hour. For example, 15 minutes of guitar practice = 15 extra minutes of video game time. Ensure that goals include social engagement, such as making (and sticking to) plans with friends or attending a school event.
As Tyler invests in other areas of his life, video games will become less important. Keep in mind that this will take time, and consistency is key. If you lapse on the rules, you set progress back. Keep your eye on the prize and anticipate some pushback; it’s hard to give up the things you enjoy! Make sure Tyler has plenty to look forward to and help him revisit the hobbies he used to enjoy for their own sake. Make time for leisure on a daily basis and ensure that Tyler’s recreational activities are, in fact, recreational.
Say This: “Tyler, it’s really important that you lead a full life. We’re going to pull back the video games to devote some of your time to other things. Moving forward, you can have one hour of video games per night, if you finish all of your homework and chores first. I’m going to lay out some goals that you can accomplish to earn an extra 15 minutes of video game time each night.”
Not That: “Are you playing video games again?”
A word from the authors, for all parents: If you have concerns about dependencies or addiction, we recommend seeking the help of a mental health professional as soon as possible. The strategies discussed in this column may not be suitable for every individual, or family.
Say This, Not That is based on the work of Cognition Builders: a global, educational company headed by Ilana Kukoff (Founder & CEO) and Jessica Yuppa Huddy (Chief Learning Officer). Everywhere from New York City to California to Shanghai to Zurich, the Cognition Builders team is called upon by A-list entertainers, politicians, CEOs, and CFOs to resolve the conflicts that upend everyday life. When their work is done, the families they serve are stronger than ever. With their new book, Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter Kukoff and Yuppa Huddy have selected the most common conversational mistakes parents make, and fixed them. For more information, please visit: https://cognitionbuilders.com. To purchase Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter visit: http://publishing.andrewsmcmeel.com/books/detail?sku=9781449488055.
DISTRIBUTED BY ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION