20 Mar What can we do about the problem of kids addicted to videogames?
Excessive gaming is a serious problem for both parents and teenagers and with the impact of lockdown it is more vital than ever that people understand this problem.
It is not only parents who are struggling to get their children off videogames, but kids addicted to videogames are also facing a very real struggle.
As lockdown eases and children are getting back into the routine of school the amount of time they can spend gaming or using devices has massively decreased.
While this reduction in screen time may be seen as a positive, there is a very real possibility that a child addicted to videogames is now craving time on their Xbox.
As a result, parents are seeing children desperate to play videogames in the morning before school and then after school in the evenings.
Tackling anger in kids addicted to videogames
Back On Track Teens has seen an influx of referrals to its coaching practice of young people, especially boys, who are addicted to the gaming world and lose control when they told they cannot play. Their parents are seeing levels of anger and aggression to the point that they are becoming a danger to themselves and people around them, even smashing things up.
With social interaction between friends limited, gaming has been an important way of coping through lockdown for many young people, allowing them to connect with friends through gaming platforms.
Parents juggling home schooling and work have also seen the benefits of their children being occupied to allow them to get things done.
As we move away from that difficult scenario the downside of too much gaming is becoming apparent.
A learned habit
Children now learn to use devices, such as tablets and gaming consoles, from a young age. Families help them to learn games and condone that behaviour as a distraction.
The problem is that when it is condoned, it is rewarded – and when it is rewarded, it becomes conditioned and then becomes a habit. This habit can then quickly become part of their identity.
The whole digital world is now such a part of the world of most young people that it has become a go-to habit for them.
Unfortunately, parents now feel lost in how to deal with this when gaming becomes a problem. Many parents feel there is nothing they can do about it and that limiting belief has fed into children acting out if they are asked to shut a device down.
In short children are bringing the aggression of the game into the family home and parents are backing off for the easy life. They are controlling you instead of you bringing control to the situation.
Competition and fitting in
When a young person is upset, bored, or feeling they don’t fit in, it’s easy to escape into videogames. With challenges, rewards and wins, these games fire dopamine into the system to make the gamer feel good. It’s no wonder they become engrossed and time disappears.
They always want ‘one more go’, have just reached the next level or won another life.
Young people have grown up with this and, like all teenagers, want to fit in. If all their friends are playing then they will want to as well. Often competing in the same game.
But this competition can be problematic – they are not just playing, they are competing against each other. Who has the most points? Who has the most skins? Who’s top dog.
That competition can easily spill over and become aggressive with friends falling out and even young kids swearing at other players.
In-game skins quickly become a status symbol and kids do get bullied if their status is not seen as good enough. Nobody wants to be a poor player so to earn that status – the in-game bling – they either have to play for longer until they get it or buy it.
Triggers for addiction
Young people are in a gaming world where they pay money, press a button amid flashing lights and building excitement that triggers the chemicals in their body. These are linked in to sounds while emotions run high. They get hooked on that feeling. It is literally the same as gambling.
It is easy to see how addictions take hold. Dopamine hits the reward centres and support a need for significance by being the best gamer.
High level gamers have control and a level of certainty while unknown challenges, the promise of loot boxes and playing with friends will keep them interested.
An easy escape from the realities of life
If a young person has been bullied and feels isolated the gaming world can offer an anonymous escape where they can pretend to be who they want to be. Strong, successful, important. Gaming meets the needs of these young people at a very high level and proves very addictive.
To tackle the problem of kids’ videogame addiction or an Xbox addiction, parents and carers need to understand that the behaviour is a symptom of an unmet need. The young person cannot meet this need and so turns to gaming.
Parents contact us about Xbox addiction symptoms as their child has lost control around gaming. They are unable to get their child off games because they are met with displays of anger and even violence. Parents feel powerless and don’t know what to do.
There is a solution though and we can work together to bring harmony back to the home and set these behaviours back on track.
Back On Track Teens will support families to bring structure and control back in to the home, working to provide activities for young people that meet their needs outside of the gaming world.
Choose the life you want to lead
The key is to bring balance back between real life and the escape from reality that gaming brings. Ultimately young people need a sense of achievement and to find rewards away from gaming.
This is the time to give children and teenagers the gift of managing their behaviours and emotions before they become young adults who are out of control.