HELP FOR PARENTS WITH STRONG-WILLED, OUT-OF-CONTROL CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

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Game Addiction

Mark,

Read your book -- loved it and it helped. My son J__, an extremely intelligent, confident, socially comfortable 16-year-old, is addicted to the computer game World of Warcraft (wow for short). Like other addicts (ex. alcoholics), is it necessary for him to "want" to change in order for us to get wow out of his life? Computers are necessary for his school research and submittal of assignments, so even if he is "detoxing" he'll need to use one. He has access to computers at school, friend's houses & internet cafes.

Background info:

1. Parents divorced when he was 8, lives with mother but visits father (who he doesn't like)
2. He's resistant to authority and doesn't feel the need to try to please anyone, but also doesn't act out by doing drugs/drinking/deviant behavior
3. He says he loves the game so much because it's challenging and he's so good at it. All his friends play.
4. He has played for hours on end, staying up all night on weekends, neglecting schoolwork to play. I used your program to set up a consequence program and it helped, except that he is totally willing to risk consequences to play this game, so we are in a negative cycle, which is why I am asking about the possibility of addiction and the need to approach this differently.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

K.

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Hi K.,

Here’s the definition of addiction in general:

1. An individual needs more and more of a substance or behavior to keep him/her going.
2. If the individual does not get more of the substance or behavior, he/she becomes irritable and miserable.

Compulsive gaming meets these criteria, and game addicts can indeed experience severe withdrawal symptoms (e.g., anger, violence, depression).

Research suggests gambling elevates dopamine. But there’s more to addiction than brain chemistry. Even with drugs or alcohol, it’s not just physical – there’s a psychological component to the addiction, knowing “I can escape or feel good about my life.”

The addict is trying to change the way he feels by taking something outside himself. The alcoholic learns, “I don’t like the way I feel, so I’ll I take a couple shots of whiskey.” For gamers, it’s the fantasy world that makes them feel better.

The lure of a fantasy world is especially pertinent to online role-playing games. These are games in which a player assumes the role of a fictional character and interacts with other players in a virtual world. An intelligent child who is unpopular at school can become dominant in the game. The virtual life becomes more appealing than real life.

Too much gaming may seem relatively harmless compared with the dangers of a drug overdose, but video game addiction can ruin lives. Children who play four to five hours per day have no time for socializing, doing homework, or playing sports. That takes away from normal social development. You can get a 21-year-old with the emotional intelligence of a 12-year-old. He’s never learned to talk to girls. He’s never learned to play a sport.

Spending a lot of time gaming doesn’t necessarily qualify as an addiction. 80% of the world can play games safely. The question is: Can you always control your gaming activity?

According to the Center for On-Line Addiction, warning signs for video game addiction include:

· Feeling irritable when trying to cut down on gaming
· Gaming to escape from real-life problems, anxiety, or depression
· Lying to friends and family to conceal gaming
· Playing for increasing amounts of time
· Thinking about gaming during other activities

In addition, video game addicts tend to become isolated, dropping out of their social networks and giving up other hobbies. It’s about somebody who has completely withdrawn from other activities. One mother called me when her son dropped out of baseball. He used to love baseball, so that’s when she knew there was a problem.

The overwhelming majority of video game addicts are males under 30. It’s usually children with poor self-esteem and social problems. They’re intelligent and imaginative but don’t have many friends at school. A family history of addiction may also be a factor.

If you’re concerned your child may be addicted to video games don’t dismiss it as a phase. Keep good documents of the child’s gaming behavior, including:

· How the child reacts to time limits
· Logs of when the child plays and for how long
· Problems resulting from gaming

You need to document the severity of the problem. Don’t delay seeking professional help; if there is a problem, it will probably only get worse.

Treatment for video game addiction is similar to detox for other addictions, with one important difference. Computers have become an important part of everyday life, as well as many jobs, so compulsive gamers can’t just look the other way when they see a PC.

It’s like a food addiction. You have to learn to live with food.

Because video game addicts can’t avoid computers, they have to learn to use them responsibly. That means no gaming. As for limiting game time to an hour a day, I compare that to an alcoholic saying he’s “only going to drink beer.”

The toughest part of treating video game addicts is that it’s a little bit more difficult to show somebody they’re in trouble. Nobody’s ever been put in jail for being under the influence of a game.

The key is to show gamers they are powerless over their addiction, and then teach them real-life excitement as opposed to online excitement.

To make the games less seductive, find ways to minimize your child's downtime at home, especially those times when he is alone. Maybe your child would be interested in arts and crafts, theater, or movie-making. Maybe a social-skills group would be a good idea. Maybe he could join a youth group at your church or synagogue.

If he has trouble with a particular sport because of poor motor skills, or has difficulty understanding the rules or strategies, look for another sport that might be more accommodating - for example, martial arts, bowling, or swimming. Help your child find some activity that he likes and a place where he can do it.

Give warning times: "You have 15 more minutes... You now have 10 minutes... There are only five minutes left." A timer that is visible to the child can be helpful. When the buzzer rings, say, "I know you need to reach a point where you can save the game. If you need a few more minutes, I will wait here and let you have them."

If he continues to play despite your step-by-step warnings, do not shout or grab the game or disconnect the power. Calmly remind him of the rules, then announce that for each minute he continues to play, one minute will be subtracted from the time allowed the next day (or days). Once you get the game back, lock it up. When he finally regains the privilege to play, say, "Would you like to try again to follow the family rules?"

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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