Parenting the Video Game Fanatic

My 13-year-old son has tried everything from baseball to cooking class—yet nothing holds his interest as much as video games. Every now and then I wonder if it is worth investing money and time into classes or sports he doesn’t want to participate in. But if I hold off on signing him up for things, he does nothing except play video games until we try something new again. It’s a never-ending cycle.

Are video games healthy?

According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of teens—and 84% of teen boys—play video games. There is a lot of conflicting information about video game use, so it can be hard for parents to know what to allow. It’s screen time, of course, but video gaming is often also a social activity played together with friends either in the same room or online.

Playing video games can have positive benefits, says Dr. Larry D. Rosen, a professor at California State University and author of The Distracted Mind. Gaming “can offer some skill-building, including reaction time, executive functioning, and strategic thinking,” says Rosen. He cautions, though, that “playing video games can be very addictive and create problematic thinking, including desensitization to violence.”

Video game obsession?

Rosen recommends that video game play should be limited since research shows physiological arousal increases when playing—and kids need breaks from that. He suggests limiting gaming for teens to 60-90 minutes at a time, even if parents decide to allow more total time daily.

Maria Sanders, a licensed social worker, and certified parent coach, also recommends creating clear boundaries regarding when and how long your teen is allowed to play. She says an example of boundaries might be letting teens choose to play an hour of video games either before or after completing homework.

Sanders encourages parents to learn more about their teen’s interest in video games. Sit down and play the games with them. “The child will see that you have an interest in what they are doing,” she says, “and you will learn about why they are so attracted to the game.”

Encouraging other activities

Teens should live “balanced lives and not live solely in the video game,” says Sanders. But if your teen doesn’t express interest in anything else, it may be difficult to figure out which activity or sport to encourage. Sanders suggests asking your teen about the type of video games they like to play. Then you might be able to figure out an activity that uses similar skills or gameplay.

Stay positive about video games

Often parents make comments like “video games are a waste of time” or “video games are unhealthy” in an effort to decrease video game use. Rosen says this almost always backfires. Instead, parents could reward the child for responsible behavior.

“The best thing a parent can do is guide their child down a path of self-reflection,” Sanders said. “Asking questions like ‘I notice you seem pretty tired after playing video games. How are you feeling?’ will help your child figure out their own beliefs about video game use.”

Parent negativity can make a teen feel as if they are being judged and misunderstood. Focus on their strengths while playing a video game—perhaps, for instance, their ability to help a friend get to another level.

Too many video games

Video game addiction is not yet a disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. The World Health Organization, however, recently recognized the existence of “gaming disorder” for the first time. If you are concerned about your teen, contact a mental health professional to discuss counseling options.