Video Game Addiction in Teens & Preteens

Parent Q&A

  • Grandson and computer addiction

    (4 replies)

    Our nearly 15 year old grandson has become increasingly enamored of his computer time, almost exclusively gaming, to the point where we feel he is addicted.  My daughter contacted me about treatment, thereapists.  She lives in the South Bay Area (SJ) and I am wondering if any of you have had experience with this and could recommend a therapist or program.  There are lots of them online ---- but not so sure you can trust everything you read out there!  He's gotten to the point where he is talking about physically hurting himself, others, so it's gotten pretty much out of control.  Many thanks in advance for insights to therapists, treatment programs you may know of.

    Hi - This is definitely serious and how fortunate your daughter has you to encourage her in seeking treatment for your grandson.  I have a 19 year old who was in treatment for internet gaming disorder (IGD) as a 17 year old, and yes, it is a real thing which is why so many countries have now officially recognized the disorder.  I believe China and either Taiwan or South Korea is also funding treatment for video game addicts.  Often, those with IGD have other underlying mental health challenges - be it anxiety, depression, ADHD , processing issues, etc. I encourage your daughter to find a support group - both NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and Willows in the Wind may have South Bay Chapters.  I also encourage her to hire an educational consultant.  My son, with his consent went to Aspiro Wilderness Therapy and then to Telos in Utah.  While they did not cover IGD specifically, the helped him with his "Processing Addiction" as gaming is a process like gambling.  Both programs were really helpful for him in understanding some of his challenges and during his time there he said it was a year of his life that will help him the rest of his life.  He is still working on his challenge but each day I see more and more maturity and wisdom on his part and attribute the therapy to helping him make such strides in these two years.  I am doing more research on who is out there making in roads in fighting the gaming companies, trying to find out where the MADD is for people like us.  So far I haven't found too much, but I do now that Children's Hospital in Boston just started CIMAID - clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders.  Programs like Aspiro and Telos, do not come cheap and you will want to find someone to help you with your insurance company.  However, to my family, our son's treatment was more important than his college fund!   Please feel free to reach out to me for any other information. 

    I'm so sorry to hear that your grandson is struggling with computer addiction. I remember that period of our lives all too well and it was so challenging. My son had a similar issue around that same age. He went from an outgoing and athletic kid into a sunlight deprived recluse who slept passed noon or later and then gamed all night. He gained weight from being so inactive and never hung out with friends in real life - his whole world was online. We tried everything from incentives to punishments to setting gaming limits and finally therapy and shutting off the internet. He was completely addicted and would completely meltdown if he couldn't be online. Gaming was attractive to him for a variety of reasons - he was well liked online in his gaming community, he was accepted and celebrated for his love of the game (something he couldn't get from his family - I still have no idea how some of those games work), he was pretty good at the games (something he wasn't feeling about school or amongst his peer group), and they were fun to play. Middle school and high school years are challenging. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense that so many kids are escaping online during the puberty years. Eventually I began sharing my concerns about my son's computer addiction with him. I would try and listen to him instead of yelling. The fighting and the anger only made things worse. It was only when I smothered my son with love, was direct and honest with him about how worried I was for him and his future that things changed. We got lucky. He made the decision to stop playing games cold turkey and quit successfully the first time. He joined his school's track team and the sunlight and exercise quickly developed him back into a healthier version of himself. He made some good friends on his team and now texts with them almost as much as they hang out in person. He was able to replace all the things he was getting from gaming. My advice would be to find out what your grandson enjoys or gets from being on the computer, share your worries with him about how being on the computer is negatively impacting his life, love him like crazy, and help him find a healthier alternative to being online. We tried therapy but it wasn't much help in changing his behavior. The biggest impact happened when I acknowledged my feelings and fear and changed how I was communicating with my son about his computer addiction. Like the saying goes - I couldn't change or control him, I could only change and control myself and my reactions to his behaviors. I wish you all the best navigating your situation. Good luck! 

    Here's a link to an article that relates to your situation. https://www.outsideonline.com/2336521/why-tech-generation-needs-wilderne...

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Questions


15-year-old is addicted to video gaming

March 2013

My 15 year old grandson is addicted to video gaming (in this case it's ''League of Legends''/LOL.) He'll spend every waking (and sleeping) hour doing only this. He thinks he'll have a career in it. Maybe he will (he's very bright & seems highly skilled in LOL) BUT his life as a teen is not being experienced. He plays on a 'team' of LOL gamers who are 10-15 years older. Now they are his''friends''. He was great in whatever sport he suited up for (but never had a long lasting enthusiasm for any; it's not so surprising that he's dropped out of all sports. He'll sneak onto the computer when he should be doing his homework or sleeping. So far grades haven't fallen. He forgets to eat, to drink water, to do his minimal chores. No longer does he ask a teen friend over to visit; ditto for going to their home. He had promise as a pianist or guitarist, but he doesn't practice anymore. League of Legends is it. I'm live here & he lives 5 hours away, but his mother/my daughter-in-law is concerned. My successful son/his father (who works in the computer industry & plays some video games, but isn't addicted) is unclear what is best. Mostly, however, his father supports whatever teen's mother wants to do. Thank you for your helpful input.


First step is to get on top of how many hours he plays. Your daughter-in-law can go online and search for parental control software that will turn her son's computer off at specified times, and will let her set a limit to how many hours/week he gets to play. It costs about $30. We did this with our son and it was really helpful. No more arguing about what time he's going to get off the game; at 10 p.m., the computer turns off. Period. Oh well! He gets about 10 hours per week total. You can activate similar parental controls on the xbox, so I would assume on other devices as well. She can also set her modem to turn off at specific hours, if the above can't be done for various reasons, but I prefer to take measures that only affect my son's computer. Your grandson will be angry, but like I said, oh well! He will survive. I know it's tough


Anxious 16-year-old is addicted to his computer

August 2011

My 16 year has anxiety with going out of his comfort zone. He is addicted to his computer...he plays games & nothing sexual or violent....we went to florida for a week and he stayed in his room with his laptop the whole time...he doesn't like to go out and his friends are online buddies....when we go to family events he isolates himself from everyone...he opted for on-line schooling as he could not take any more high school...and begged me to withdraw and let him do this online school and he has not been doing the work he needs to be doing with his courses and all he does when i talk to him is just a look and declares himself happy....and he refuses to go to a counselor...help


I was concerned reading your post, both about your son and you as a parent. I will preface my remarks by saying that I too faced a situation in which my teen needed to see a therapist and she refused to go. I reached a point when I could no longer allow her to make that choice. So, I told her, it is my job as a parent to get you the help I feel you need. You are going if you wish to remain in this house. My voice and body language gave a clear message: I mean what I say. She went.

So, with your son, who is in charge? It simply has to be you. If you feel that he needs professional help (and I agree that such a consultation is appropriate) then you must get this done! If your son had a serious medical condition, would you allow him to choose not to go to a doctor? Nope. Then, make an appointment with a therapist. Tell your son he is going and inform him of the consequences if he makes a poor choice and refuses to cooperate. Let him know that you fully intend to do your job as a parent. One possible consequence for such a refusal comes to mind immediately- take away his computer if your son continues to refuse to go for the help you as his parent feels he needs. anon


You have a lot of leverage with your son at this age. He is a minor. He is required by law to go to school. You can cut off his computer access at any time. He needs to prioritize school work, at a minimum, and his withdrawal from social time is concerning. I would immediately cut off his access to his online games, and let him earn that access back through meeting his responsibilities. I would also consider an evaluation by a mental health professional--again, if he wants to be able to play online, he has to go. He sounds like he could be depressed rather than anxious, or maybe both.

Our foster son, who has a lot of anxiety as well as a lot to recover from, would be happy to just play online from rise to bedtime. We set a school-year weekly limit of 15 hours and a summer limit of 21 hours. He can earn or lose time based on his behavior. Because he has behavioral issues, this is one of our few points of leverage. It has been very effective.

Stand firm. He cannot just drop out of school and life. It's up to you to set limits. online game time is a privilege, not a right


13-year-old son addicted to video games

April 2010

My 13-yr-old son in 8th grade quit martial arts and now hangs around talking on phone & using the computer. He loved martial arts - had been at it since he was 3. When I asked him Why, he said ''It takes up too much of my life'' The point here is that he wants to hang around & use computer and do nothing else. This is isolating, bad for his eyes & body, makes him miss out opportunities to develop personality & learn social skills and makes him a boring, sheltered person. I suppose it would be OK for him to be in dance, sports,etc. as long as he has some physical activity out of the house where he is with others--but he flatly refuses. It is not OK to sit with eyes glued to screen getting ruined & body turning into mush & just being isolated in this little virtual world. It gets to the point where he does not want to answer when I am talking to him. It's the computer & phone that are taking over life (yes i sometimes take it away, but i need it myself & eventually it comes back. I suggest many different activities and look at magazines to find more, but he shoots down every one. I am hoping someone out there has a suggestion; maybe you went thru something like this & found a solution.


One solution would be to limit access to electronic devices and the internet. When he gets bored, he will hopefully pick up MA again or some other activity.

Somehow we grew up okay without all the electronic devices. You are paying the bills for these devices, so you can turn them off. Parent of teens


Hi, I could have written your posting. I, too, have a computer/video game addicted 13 year old boy. He also has been very active in martial arts and in the past year we have been getting increased resistance to going. He has gotten more withdrawn and everything revolves around getting gaming time daily. I also notice the longer he is on the more irritable he gets with me when I try to intervene, especially trying to get him off the games. He also loses track of his own physical needs and will not eat, which in turn causes more irritability. It got so bad, along with some other difficult behavior, that we sought out help at Coyote Coast Counseling in Orinda. Their program was great and now he gets a certain amount of gaming time for ''free'' daily, but beyond that, he has to earn his time by doing things each day. For example, he can earn a 15 minute ''chip'' by getting himself up for school in the morning without any prompting. He can get an hour ''chip'' by going to karate, etc. These chips are then used for weekend gaming time. We also set up some strict limits about gaming in the evening during the week. Having our son involved in the process and creating a ''home agreement'' has helped a lot. We also got him involved in boy scouts, which surprisingly, he agreed to go to and is liking it. We've also done a lot more talking and educating about the harmful effects of gaming so much and what we've observed in him. It's taken a lot of effort and energy to make these changes and we've had to deal with a lot of resistance, but slowly and surely, it is working. I have felt so much frustration dealing with this issue. All the changes we have made have been very recent, so we are still adjusting and tweeking the home agreement and trying to stay one step ahead of our son.


17-year-old is addicted to World of Warcraft

July 2008

My son is 17 and was recently diagnosed w/ ADHD and LD by a neuropsychologist. We had him tested because we were concerned about his grades, which had been very good, but curved down to bottom by junior year. He is very intelligent, but does very little homework. He sees a therapist, a learning specialist and has a 504 plan at BHS.

He plays World of Warcraft compulsively. Treatment by his therapists does not seem to help him come to the realization that his gaming is a problem. When we (the parents) take away the game, he goes on strike and doesn't go to school.

Questions: Does anyone have any experience with World of Warcraft addiction? If so, what has helped your child? Are there any local therapists who specialize in this? What about residential treatment or boarding schools? I am at wit's end. Any advice or sharing of experience would be appreciated. anon


My heart goes out to you - our young adult son is a gambling addict, and Asperger's is a key factor in his addiction. I recommend that you call Bodin Associates www.thebodingroup.com/ and discuss your son's situation with them -- they have extensive knowledge of a wide range of resources and strategies. Based on our (very positive) experience, their recommendation is likely to be an initial wilderness program, perhaps followed by a residential boarding school. Bodin consultants regularly visit a wide range of programs and schools, and they know the staff in these programs personally. I wish you and your son the best. in much the same situation


Don't hesitate to go to the mat on this one! I was a hospital teacher on an adolescent psych unit. Many parents place their child in residential treatment, for as long as 18 months to 2 years.

There is no guarantee that every teenager will make it through their teen years, nowadays.

Radical treatment is needed here. Get rid of his computer, admittedly difficult to do. Electronic screens in general, have become the malaise of American children.

Call the BUSD attendance office and/or the Berkeley Police if necessary. It is nothing to feel shy or stigmatized about.

You can't let your son control the situation. You need to rein him in.

My own son has a degree of computer addiction (racing games). I sent him away to camp for 9 weeks this summer, largely to get him away from the computer.

Bill Gates lets his daughter use the computer 45 minutes on school nights and 1 hour on weekend nights. If that's enough time for Bill Gates' child, it's enough time for our sons.

Best of Luck and Don't Be Reticent! Berkeley Teacher and Mother


That's a really tough issue, and my heart goes out to you. I wrote a Contra Costa Times piece earlier this year on the topic of video game addiction, and I've got a couple of sites and resources you may find helpful.

First, Iowa State psychology professor Douglas Gentile says there are red flags to watch for when it comes to any video game addiction. It's not the hours, he says, it's the impact on the rest of life. So here's the list of red flags: http://www.ibabuzz.com/aparentlyspeaking/2008/04/06/game-on-too-long/

World of Warcraft was a hot topic on a recent Q session we ran with CSU Dominguez Hills professor Larry Rosen, author of ''Me, Myspace and I'' (great book, by the way),Walnut Creek therapist Steven Freemire and Times video games blogger Danny Willis -- and Danny raised some particularly interesting points about why forcing a teen to go cold-turkey meets with the reception that, well, you've experienced. He says parents tend to think of these games like virtual solitaire, when they're more like varsity football. They're played in teams, so if your son doesn't show up to play, he's letting down real people to whom he made a commitment. So it may be helpful when you talk to your son, if you understand that to him, it's like being yanked off the varsity football team, or told he can only go to two practices a week -- in which case, the team will dump him. Your discussion will go better if he gets that you get it. Or at least, the door may not be slammed quite as hard.

Excerpts from the Q, as well as the full Times story, are archived here: http://www.ibabuzz.com/aparentlyspeaking/2008/04/06/game-on-too-long/ Jackie


Who's paying for the account? Who is in charge of the computer? I am an adult and I play WOW, but only when time allows. My 20 y.o. plays too. She began 3 yrs. ago. There was a time when I had to restrict her access. She had to show me her completed school work and must have finished her home chores before she got on. I also limited her amount of time to 3 hours MAX.! Its easy to get caught up in a group raid our chain of quests and be on for hours at a time. Its also very easy for teens to get caught up in guild and group conversations.

As with any other excessive activity, he needs to be reminded who the parent is. Bring him into school if necessary. Take away other privledges. Whatever you have to do to re-establish the parent-child relationship. Jenny


I have only personal experience with WOW addiction. Last year my very bright 15 year old son with no behavioral or learning problems became addicted and his grades dropped. After several warnings, we set up controls. He somehow got access to my confidential parental and computer passwords and used them to bypass controls I had set up. We stopped paying for the game and immediately cut off his access to the game. Unlike in your situation, he did not refuse to go to school, although he was pretty angry for a while. In the long run this worked for us. He did well in school for the rest of the year and he has access this summer. The school year remains to be tested.

I read about game addiction in a medical journal, and the effect on the brain appears to be similar to substance addiction--increasing use needed for the same ''high'', etc. This is exactly how WOW is set up. Not everyone is susceptible to it, but from what I read, as with substance abuse, if someone is really addicted, access to the game has to be cut off. Hopefully you will get recommendations for treatment from other readers. parent of WOW fan


High School sophomore addicted to internet games

March 2002

My son is a sophomore at Albany High, and he appears to be addicted to video games. I think his ideal life would be sitting in front of a computer monitor with an IV in his arm to deliver enough nutrients and caffeine that he wouldn't have to eat or sleep. He also has started to lie to his mother and me -- and to his teachers -- about his schoolwork to maximize his access to the video games, particularly those on the web. He has some friends, but they tend to be limited to other gamers.

Does anyone have any advice and/or good resources for dealing with this problem? In one sense, I'm glad he isn't out on the streets getting into drugs or other forms of trouble. But I fear his life has become so one-dimensional that he will be damaged as a result of this obsession. Anonymous


To the parent of the Sophomore at Albany High School who is addicted to computer games:

My son is a Senior at AHS and has the same addiction. We tried monitoring, reducing, limiting the hours he spent playing his favorite game (Diablo). These were all just band-aids put on a serious injury and ultimately not successful. We recently took the game and threw it in the garbage. He was, surprisingly, not angry, and seemed almost relieved. I realize that this isn't a permanent solution, since computers are everywhere, but it's a start. I wish I had taken more aggressive action a long time ago, and I urge any parents facing this same situation to take it seriously. Some may feel that the word addiction is thrown around too lightly these days and that this is not a true addiction. I can testify from our experience that this is an addiction, and one that is not easily broken. It's not as easy as just finding other activities for your son to take part in. While they're in their gaming mode, they don't want to do anything else. That is inherent in the nature of an addiction.

My husband recently did some research on the internet about gaming addiction and this is what he found.
From: http://www.vifamily.ca/cft/media/media.htm Parents and teachers often comment that kids become absolutely wired when absorbed in video games. Now, there's a scientific study which confirms that observation. In a study conducted at the Cyclotron Unit of Hammersmith Hospital in London, Dr. Paul Grasby and his fellow researchers determined that playing video games triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. The researchers discovered that dopamine production in the brain doubles during video game play. The increase of the psychoactive chemical was roughly the same as when a person is injected with amphetamines or the attention-deficit disorder drug, Ritalin. This is the first hard evidence that video game playing is addictive, the equivalent of a dose of speed. From: http://www.computeraddiction.com/ Psychological Symptoms of computer addiction are: Having a sense of well-being or euphoria while at the computer Inability to stop the activity Craving more and more time at the computer Neglect of family and friends Feeling empty, depressed, irritable when not at the computer Lying to employers and family about activities Problems with school or job
Another article about gaming addiction is at: http://pigseye.kennesaw.edu/~tbennet1/

The list of symptoms above described my son to a tee. Now that the game is gone, he has started going out more with friends and is friendlier to us around the house. I wish you luck with your son and his addiction. I know that every situation is unique, and you have to do what feels right to you. I certainly wish, for my son's sake, that I had known what I know now about this addiction. I am signing this anonymously, but if you wish to talk to me, let me know through this site and I'll contact you. Good luck.


I'm not a parent but I cover parenting issues for the Mercury News, and this is one of the first stories I wrote for the paper two years ago (Entranced by Electronics, March 2000, you can find it on the web www.mercurycenter.com.) All of the experts (including parents who experienced what you describe) said the best way to cure kids' video game addiction is to set strict limits. They suggested not allowing kids to have computers, PlayStations, TVs, etc. in their bedrooms if monitoring their behavior is a problem. One family whose teenage son was lying etc. to play games, got fed up and took all of his electronic toys away. This devastated the kid at first, but the family substituted with homework, extra curricular activities, church and other outings, so that by the end of the day there simply was no time left for video games. Once they were sure he was cure of the obsession they eased up a bit and I think now allow him to play games occasionally over at friends houses.

Of course, it's impossible to know what kids are doing ALL of the time, but it seems the key to getting this under control is to be firm and consistent in setting limits. Hope that helps.
Yomi


15-year-old can't get up in the morning

March 2003

My 15 year old son often does not get up on time to get to school on time. He stays up too late and has his radio on all night. At times he seems to be addicted to computer games. I would like to get some advice as to how to deal with this situation.


At some point teens will have to take responsibility for actions such as not getting up on time -- flunking college classes and getting fired from jobs. But for now, if the radio and computer are tempting him to stay up too late then take them away until the weekend. He may throw a huge fit, but he had the opportunity to make a mature decision about bedtime and clearly he is not yet mature enough. Tell him when he thinks he is mature enough you will let him manage his own time again. LC


Computer over-use has been a serious problem for my 17-year-old for the past several years. I learned it is an addiction from advice I got in this newsletter. My son plays online games and will play for 12 or 14 hours straight, every single day if no one objects, playing from the time he wakes up till he falls asleep in the early hours of the morning. He'll skip meals to play. He will wait till we have gone to bed and then play games till 3 or 4 in the morning every single night. Of course he cannot get up at 7am to go to school. For the past two years he's had a more amenable schedule at Berkeley Independent Studies with all appointments scheduled for after 1pm. He has never been very academically motivated, and the computer addiction greatly exacerbated the academic problem. He is no longer in school - he is waiting to take the high school equivalency exam. He is a good kid, sweet, and he has other (non-academic) interests and talents besides the computer. His social life comes ahead of computer games, so the problem is not completely desperate, but computer use continues to be a big big problem. It uses up all his time and keeps him from other activities like music and recreation. He is not writing computer programs or being otherwise creative. He is playing games for hours and hours on end.

The only thing that works is physically removing the computer. We tried many other tactics. We'd say ''computer after homework'' but he'd say he had no homework. We tried taking away the computer till grades improved, and they'd improve, he'd get the computer back, and grades would take a nose dive again. We tried locking the keyboard in the trunk of our car (he found another keyboard), unplugging the internet connection (he plugged it back after we went to bed) and taking out the graphics card (he borrowed one from a friend). So we have to take the CPU and lock it up. I feel like an ogre - I know how important email and instant messaging are to teens and I really hate to take it away. I am myself a software engineer who's on the computer all day. I like games myself. But he is completely unable to limit the time he spends on games - it really is an addiction. Now he only gets his computer on the weekends. Even though he is not in school anymore and has very little else to do. He complains continually and bitterly about this but even he agrees that he cannot control himself.

My advice: take the computer away. Give it to him on weekends if his grades are satisfactory. Don't crumble if he complains. Hold your ground. He will find other things to do.