Addicted to Video Games
Teachable Moments, from Jan/Feb 2016
By Marybeth Hicks
Q. My husband and I are in our early 30s, and he grew up playing and enjoying video games. It’s a hobby he has continued, and now he and our sons, ages 11 and nine, spend hours in the evening and on weekends huddled together in our basement game room, challenging each other on their favorite games.
When they were younger, my husband was great about letting the boys play only the kinds of games that were appropriate for their ages. Games such as soccer, football, and Mario Bros. got them into gaming in a manner I was comfortable with—although I have always been the one to limit the boys’ game time. My husband is usually playing with them and forgets enforce the time limits we’ve agreed on.
My husband and I are now clashing because he thinks it’s okay to allow our sons to play his “mature”-rated games, including some that seem very violent. I’m worried they are being exposed to themes that are far beyond their maturity. I’m also concerned that my husband is letting them play his games because he’s tired of playing games that don’t interest him. The more he lets them play his games, the more time they all spend in the basement game room.
How do I reverse this trend? I’m outnumbered and will certainly be considered a spoilsport if I make an issue about gaming in our home.
A. Video games are big business, and to grow their market share, game companies have worked hard to redefine the way children play. Games are meant to draw players into a pattern of compulsive repetition (“l’ll stop playing after I beat the next level…”) so that kids spend mindless hours using video games even if they don’t intend to do so.
We’re also solidly two generations into gaming as a hobby for adult men, and that means children are growing up in households where gaming is viewed as an avenue for fun and interaction by at least one parent.
In moderation, with good supervision, and using wholesome, age-appropriate games, there’s no reason why gaming can’t be a fun activity the whole family can enjoy. If the time and content of games is limited and reflects the values you’re teaching in your home, gaming isn’t a problem.
But as the saying goes, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets addicted. Video game addiction and Internet Gaming Disorder are real and serious problems, disrupting the proper neural development of adolescents and young people, and causing harmful physical, emotional and psychological problems. New studies into the phenomenon of gaming addiction shows that, like other kinds of addiction, the need for more stimuli increases, both in terms of violent content and amount of time engaged in gaming, until the gamer is literally controlled by the act of gaming.
The content of games also is a serious concern. Many of the most popular games include narratives of extreme violence, voyeuristic sexual fantasies, crime, and destruction, using graphics that put the player into the virtual experience more realistically than ever before.
One reason why your husband is probably not concerned about letting your sons play along with him is that he’s supervising them and likely feels he’s giving them the adult guidance they need. But your husband may not know the science behind video game addiction for boys and young men. He began playing these games after his brain was fully formed and developed. The impact of the games on young brains is much different—and much more dangerous.
Rather than turn this into a power struggle between you and your husband, I’d encourage you to do some research so you have information to share, not just your feelings or opinions (since he has his own feelings and opinions and thinks they’re just as valid as yours). Start with a great site called MomsManagingMedia.com, founded by nurse, researcher, and mom-of-four Melanie Hempe.
Melanie learned from firsthand experience—her son was seriously addicted to video gaming—that Internet Gaming Disorder can literally destroy young people’s lives and futures. In order to rescue her son from the physical and psychological spiral he was on, she had to learn about the neural impact of games on young brains, especially boys. What she learned and shares on her website will arm you with important information.
Next, make sure you know which games are truly dangerous and what alternatives you can suggest. Check out www.commonsensemedia.org">CommonSenseMedia.org’s “10 Most Violent Video Games of 2015 (and What to Play Instead)” for information on the games your sons might be exposed to.
Finally, take some time for a meeting with your husband to talk about your shared vision for your sons’ childhood years. It’s amazing how quickly this time will slip by, and without a clear plan or policies around media and gaming, you could find that your boys have missed out on a host of important childhood experiences because they were too busy gaming. That would be a shame!
There’s no getting around the fact that media is a part of our daily lives, but it mustn’t take control of them. Gaming is one activity created to manipulate users so they play longer and feel compelled to keep going. It’s designed for addictive behavior. Getting your husband on the same page about the appropriate use of video games for your boys is a crucial step in establishing healthy habits around gaming for years to come.