Addicted to Computer Games?

My 9-year-old son is always playing computer games, we can’t control it. He seems to be addicted. What should we do? When we try to take them away from him he goes ballistic. It reminds me of my brother who used to watch TV constantly when we were kids. It makes me nervous just because of that… my brother didn’t do well in school and this distraction has worked against him through his life. By the way he’s still a rabid TV watcher.

Dear parent,

Many children are fascinated by and possibly addicted to computer and video games. It is important for parents to remember that there are some positive aspects to these activities. Many young people develop friendships and have great discussions about things that come from the world of computer and video games. They can also be engaging and interactive and require more energy and thought than simply watching TV.

Having said this I do believe computer games can be addictive and that parents often have to set limits on their use especially when their dominance ends up limiting healthy exercise, schoolwork or interactions with family and friends.

Limiting something that is fun and interesting to a child is never easy for a parent and can result in the “ballistic” response that you mentioned in your question. It may be difficult to prevent the “fireworks” that result from setting limits but here are some ideas that I have mentioned to parents in your situation.

1. Talk to a child about limits clearly before setting them in place. Don’t wait until the “heat of the moment” to explain the details or talk things through.

2. Give warnings before having a child turn off the computer. Phrases such as “five more minutes before…..” can sometimes help with the transition.

3. Have meaningful activities ready to go when the computer is off. A child left alone or to his or her own devices will often be more upset or have good reason to turn to computer games for entertainment. Often times doing something that is fun with Mom or Dad can be a good alternative, even if it might seem boring at first.

4. I sometimes suggest that parents try playing computer games with their child. This can help a Mom or Dad understand their child’s fascination with these activities. Also the added company and interest can be more effective than parental judgments to break some of the isolation and resulting addiction.

Many parents have spoken to me about ways that their children remind them of friends or relatives from their own childhoods. I try to remind parents that although there might be similarities, people are quite unique and the details of individual lives and personalities often vary. I try to encourage parents to remember that they are often doing things differently than in the past and that those efforts can make a big difference.