More than 2.5 billion video games have been sold worldwide and the industry is growing exponentially.  In fact, video game sales now surpass sales of both music and movies. For millions of kids and young adults, playing video games has become an obsession.

To give you some history, I grew up in New Orleans – not exactly the most conservative city. But when I was a kid, people weren’t allowed to play pinball games at the arcade until they were 21. That seems like a silly law today, especially since nowadays nearly every family has their own version of a pinball arcade right in their own home. I find nothing wrong with most of these games. In fact, playing them together with your teen is a great way to connect. But some kids and young adults are being consumed by them, and that’s where the problem lies.

I think what happens in many homes is that the parents buy video game consoles, intending to play games together as a family. The kids initially enjoy them, and the parents play along from time to time. But the excitement eventually wanes and the kids come home from their friends’ houses asking for the more advanced video games their friends have. Partly out of guilt for not playing with them more often, mom and dad agree to buy the more advanced video games that the kids can play on their own, not paying much attention to what’s on them or how much time is spent playing them. After all, it keeps them at home, out of trouble.

The Draw of Video Games

Teenagers love playing video games because they provide a challenge and an escape. They offer mental and visual stimuli that can cause the “gamer” to forget where they are. In fact, hours can pass as if minutes.  It’s sad that we live in a culture that is so stressed that kids feel the need to escape in this way. It shows the intensity of that world out there and the need for parents to make their home and their relationship a place of rest for their teen.

What’s more, kids find a sense of value and esteem in playing these games. Even the dorkiest kids can become virtual sports stars, rock stars, cool secret agents or Rambo-like warriors in these games. It’s one thing they can do better than their parents and maybe even their friends, so they relish it.  And it’s one place — maybe the only place — where they feel totally in control.

When it Becomes All-Consuming

I find it interesting that the word “Atari,” the brand name of one of the original video game platforms, means in Japanese “you’re about to become engulfed.” And that’s exactly what happens to kids and an increasing number of young adults who play video games. They become engulfed in these games and lose all sense of time or care for anything else. Many kids stay up all night secretly playing video games, night after night. The loss of sleep causes them to become emotional wrecks and their grades begin to slip. Like any other addiction, they can’t get enough of it.

There is also an opportunity cost to playing video games. Every hour spent on them is an hour the teen isn’t doing something more productive, like learning a new hobby, getting exercise, doing homework, or spending time with the family. Anything that takes over a child’s time and attention for many hours every day should be moderated. Parents need to moderate the amount of time that their kids play and the type of games their kids play, and not just follow the rating on the package.  Make sure the game is appropriate for your child and your family values.

Some argue that playing video games is a good way to spend time with friends, and I agree.  But kids who are consumed by these games will tell you that they started playing games with their friends, but then moved on to playing against people online that they don’t even know. So that’s a red flag — don’t let your kids become so consumed by these games that they no longer invite their friends over to play.