Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Olivia and Kurt Bruner's new book, PlayStation Nation: Protect Your Child from Video Game Addiction, (Hachette Book Group, 2006).
Video games are so popular among kids and teens that it seems like a normal activity for you to support as a parent. If your children play video games, you may be screening the content carefully to try to reduce their exposure to objectionable material like sex and violence. But even if your kids are playing the tamest games on the market, they can still suffer great harm from video games. That’s because video games are designed to be addictive – and they steal valuable time and energy away from your kids that could otherwise be used for healthy childhood activities.
Here’s how you can protect your children from video game addiction:
Recognize the danger. Video games act like digital drugs, triggering physiological reactions in people’s brains similar to those associated with substance abuse. Research has shown that playing video games shortens your kids’ attention spans, leads to lower grades in school, weakens their physical health, deadens their creativity, reduces the closeness of their relationships with family and friends, decreases their sense of responsibility and discipline, and causes them to focus on their own gratification rather than on learning how to serve others. This all can occur at a crucial time in human development – during adolescence – when your kids’ brains are undergoing growth that hardwires them for life as adults. Many people who become addicted to video games report experiencing significant health, financial, relationship, and academic problems.
Understand what feeds the addiction. Driving forces of video addiction include: beating the game (a desire to finish the game victoriously), competition (pitting players against each other), mastery (feeling powerful – almost like the god of an artificial realm), exploration (discovering new and secret things, like hidden levels inside the games), achieving or beating a high score (developing a sense of pride), story-driven role play (compelling kids to finish games to see how the stories end), and relationships (building anonymous and virtual relationships with other players).
Consider the lost potential. There’s so much your kids could be learning, doing, and accomplishing with their lives that they can’t while playing video games. Think about all the productive activities they could be engaged in if they weren’t devoting so much time and energy to video games.
Ask some key questions. Determine whether your children might have a video game problem by asking these questions about their involvement with video games: “Do your kids play almost every day?”, “Do your kids often play for long periods (more than three to four hours at a time)?”, “Do your kids play for excitement?”, “Do your kids get restless and irritable if they can’t play?”, “Do your kids sacrifice social and sporting activities to play?”, “Do your kids play instead of doing homework?”, “Do your kids try to cut down their playing but can’t?”, and “Do your kids seem to be losing interest in real-life activities?”.
Avoid common mistakes. Don’t start your kids on video games young, because the sooner they’re exposed to the patterns that lead to addiction, they more vulnerable they are to becoming addicted. Don’t give your kids easy access to video games. Either eliminate them completely from your home and ask the parents of your kids’ friends to limit the time they spend playing video games at their friends’ houses, or set strict limits on the amount of time your kids can play at home and make sure they don’t have access to game consoles and computers during other times. Don’t use video games as part of reward system. It’s not a healthy way to motivate your kids to do homework, chores, or anything else. Don’t give into your kids’ requests to continue playing after you’ve asked them to shut their games off. Giving into their pleas to reach “one more level” or finish the game will lead to them spending more time on the games than you’d like them to spend. Don’t ignore your gut feelings if you suspect that your kids’ lives are being negatively affected by video games. Act right away to make changes to protect them.
Be prepared for resistance. When you decide to reduce or eliminate the time your children spend playing video games, expect them to fight your choice. They’ll go through withdrawal symptoms like depression and agitation if they’ve been addicted. But be assured that you all can get through the tough transition well with God’s help. Pray for the strong resolve you need to stick with your decision, and remind yourself of the many benefits to your kids. If you’re married, present a united front when communicating with your kids about your decision. Explain the reasons for your decision clearly and lovingly when talking with your kids.
Point the way toward healthier activities. As your kids start to spend less time playing video games, make sure that you spend more time with your kids. Use the time to build a closer relationship with them. Assume responsibility for the mistake of letting them play video games too much in the past, rather than blaming them. Work together to find healthier activities your kids can pursue, like starting to play a sport or taking music lessons. Be willing to invest time and money into some activities about which your kids are excited. Plan more family fun times together. Choose some service projects to pursue together. Encourage your kids to move away from the self-gratification they focused on while playing video games and use their time more productively through service. Help your kids discover the many opportunities they have to engage in healthy and fulfilling activities now that they’re free from a video game habit.
Adapted from PlayStation Nation: Protect Your Child from Video Game Addiction, copyright 2006 by Olivia and Kurt Bruner. Published by Center Street, a division of Hachette Book Group, USA, New York, NY, www.hachettebookgroupusa.com.
Olivia and Kurt Bruner serve on the faculty of the Center for Strong Families and the Heritage Builders Association. Olivia is a former sixth-grade teacher and mother of four. Kurt is the former vice president of Focus on the Family Resource Group and the author of a dozen books. They live with their children in Colorado Springs, Co.