by Meilin Obinata
“Kevin, stop playing that game. Otherwise you won't get into college.” Does that sound familiar? Ah, video games. They are the sore spot in many families. And young gamers take these family wars to heart. They are torn between giving their parents what they want (less gaming) and what they want - to enjoy winning. So when they get into fights with their parents about gaming, they know they have disappointed their parents, and themselves, once more!
Inside every disappointment is a hidden wish. That is what one of my friends told me recently. I also think that is a way to think about teenagers whose gaming is out of control - that there is a hidden wish that they are trying to fulfill. For many, the reward of the instant gratification or surge of success as the best way to relax after a long day of school. For some, they are seeking escape from family conflict, with a wish for a peaceful home. For others, they are chasing that feeling of winning, which is can elude students at school and the rest of reality. Others, they want to simply relieve their daily stress.
I'll give an example. One of my students once told me that he realized he was “using” gaming because he was lonely. His parents traveled often for work and he was not always sure when they would be back home. This conversation came up because I was impressed that he was able to significantly increase his grades by cutting back on the time he spent on gaming. Then, I asked him how he got “over” gaming. He said he got busy doing other things. He was taking on some enormous leadership responsibilities in two extracurricular activities, which would definitely occupy more time, so, that part I understood. He also told me that he still played video games, but, under different conditions.
Previously, he played video games with random people - not a stable team. Now, he only played with people he already knew, and, at a regular time of the week. He used his gaming time to get the socializing he wanted, to keep him company when his parents were away; he organized gaming so that it fit INTO his routine - instead of letting gaming run his life. He still missed his parents but he found a less disruptive way to deal with that loneliness so that he could accomplish what he set out to do. Those two factors - having other things to do, which he VALUED, and setting up a HEALTHIER relationship to gaming - were key for his transformation. The grade improvement was a natural outgrowth of those steps. I could also tell that he was happier - because he was pursuing things that gave him a sense of purpose - and reducing those things that did not, such as excessive gaming.
Part of the difficulty that gamers face, in reducing their exposure to games, is due to their adolescent biology. Recently, the Wall Street Journal ran an article discussing the reasons for the “nightly meltdowns” that happen when parents take away video games from their children. Biological factors, such as the lack of a mature prefrontal cortex and the way games trigger an unending supply of dopamine account for the strong reactions young game players exhibit in the face of parents telling them to stop playing.
Blaming teenagers for over-indulging in video gaming is the easy way out. The harder but effective path is to take on the essential task of understanding WHY they are doing it, and helping them figure out how they will SOLVE this problem. Do you know what is motivating (triggering) your child to spend so much time on gaming? Instead of expecting the problem to go away with a few words, you want to be mindful of how to help your child work on his/her self-discipline, as a team.