One of the most common complaints of parents of teenage boys is that they are addicted to gaming. A simple solution: get rid of the X-Box/PlayStation and other temptations. But for parents who can’t say no, there are some ways to manage and negotiate rules with your teenage or tween son.
While gaming is clearly less harmful than risk-taking behaviour like using alcohol, illegal or legal drugs, driving like hoons, porn-driven sexual behaviour, delinquency or smoking -- there are serious repercussions to a gaming addiction.
The sensitive window of brain changes in early to mid-adolescence up to 17 years of age means that teens are particularly susceptible to becoming addicted to anything in which they invest a lot of time and energy.
Parenting expert and author Maggie Dent claims an over-use of technology can have serious impacts on the developing brain.
“This is because the brain creates an abundance of dendrites to ensure that a teen can learn fast. It is a fabulous window of opportunity because they can learn a new language quicker, pick up a musical instrument quicker and, if focused and striving, they can improve in their competence and capability in sport, any academic pursuit, a new passion like skateboarding, singing, cooking or dancing,” Dent said.
“Research shows really excessive usage for 6-8 weeks for more than ten hours a day can create a change in personality. They can 'become' the gaming character they have been the most! This has seen some of our brightest boys dropping out of school/sport/friends and they need serious psychological help to overcome this.”
Dent told Huffington Post Australia there are signs to look out for that your child might be addicted to gaming:
- Spending excessive time in bedroom, gaming through the night.
- Too tired to go to school -- school work suffers.
- Withdrawing from outside activities like sport, surfing, bike riding, no mates dropping by anymore.
- More aggressive towards siblings, nasty mood swings with unusual aggression.
- Avoiding meal times, chores, even harder to communicate with.
Dent said boys tend to be more addicted to gaming than girls are. This is due to the biological wiring to play, make conquests and achieve a sense of mastery.
“I’ve met some gamer girls and they tell me it’s easier for them to walk away and leave it for a few days. But boys find that really hard. Boys tend to do single focus processing while girls can do multi-focus,” Dent said.
“So a girl gamer will often have a few screens open, do some social media while she games. But a boy is solely focused on winning or completing whatever he is engaged in. This deep focus is what changes the neuronal pathways in the brain quicker, hence higher chance of becoming addicted.”
“If your child is addicted to gaming, I’d suggest having a family meeting to explain the worries. It’s always good to show your child links to articles about research. Many want to see official statistics and not just what parents tell them. You should also mention fairness, mention healthy boundaries and that avoiding the need to nag, hassle and constantly keep checking does not allow him to grow in maturity and independence,” Dent said.
‘”You could tell your child you’ll review fortnightly, then maybe monthly and will need to have a chat when a part of the agreement is obviously broken - boys are actually very sensitive to feeling picked on, excluded and unable to feel loved and valued.”
Dent has outlined a set of rules parents can use to ensure gaming is kept at a minimal, non-addictive level.
- No computer or device in his bedroom – without permission
- Be actively engaged in outside of bedroom/home activity that builds emotional and social competence at least twice a week -- preferably group activity
- Be playing some form of physical sport/martial arts/surfing at least 3 times a week
- Complete normal chores around home
- Ensure school grades are maintained
- Be at family meal times and have an agreed bedtime
- Have a friend/mate visit regularly
- Be responsible for any excessive data expenses
- Not disable the parental controls that are in place
- Avoid porn sites and viewing MA 15+ or R 18+ or showing anyone else
“This agreement helps a boy know there are boundaries and that removing the gaming completely will cause more angst, disconnection, frustration and poison his sense of connectedness. They also feel 'controlled' and dominated which doesn't help him work out how to manage his adolescent desires and wants - when done fairly and respectfully we teach boys that they matter too.”
"If these things are all happening, your boy is managing his gaming in a way that is not going to cause long-term damage. It is called healthy boundaries."