I am often asked, by a parent, after delivering my talk, One More Level: Video Gaming Addiction, why I think my son was so compliant to my help through his gaming addiction. This is a valid question, as many parents report that they are afraid of their child or adult child, as they can become defiant, angry, violent, and/or suicidal with the threat of having video gaming removed. My standard answer has been that I approached the withdrawal and detox recovery phase with empathy and understanding, while remaining firm with rules and consequences. And I believe this to be true. I also believe there is much more to this answer, that I haven’t yet addressed.
I always approached parenting with empathy and understanding, while remaining firm with rules and consequences. I created a foundation for my children, that I could build on, from the very beginning. I had specific ground rules in our home which were expressed clearly. Both my sons knew that I would always follow through, and not overlook the necessary outcome of their poor behaviour. I didn’t use force or harsh punishment. I looked for my children’s currency, what it is they loved to do or play with most, and that would be removed temporarily. If they felt I was being unfair, they could discuss it with me. But I always made the final decision. I looked for the reason behind the behaviour. Were they acting out for attention? Were they angry or upset about something and acting up? Were they just making a bad choice? I tried to understand and lead with empathy at finding a solution.
My sons were able to take mental health days from school when they wanted some one-on-one time with me. We played together. We travelled together, as a family. My husband and I encouraged outside activities after school hours. We attended these with our sons and cheered from the sidelines. Our sons were never allowed to physically strike out at each other, but were instead encouraged to look for resolution with their words. My motto was “Hands are for loving”. I took an interest in who their friends were, what music they were listening to, and what games they enjoyed playing. We had a solid foundation to begin with.
Did I make mistakes as a parent? Of course I did. We’re all just muddling through this parenting journey, doing the best we can, with the tools we have. Was my son always compliant when I offered to help him through video gaming addiction detox? Of course he wasn’t. We’d never experienced this kind of traumatic struggle before. We had to learn to trust ourselves again. He had created quite a web of lies while he was trying to hide the addiction and the fact that he’d stopped attending university classes. And I had lied to myself and made up excuses for him, before finally pushing away my denial, and creating a clear path ahead. I had always said I had zero tolerance for lying while he was growing up. My son had to sort that statement out, and risk losing me, as he’d been telling great fibs for months. I had to start trusting my gut feeling, and act on it when I felt he was in trouble again, instead of turning a blind eye. It took time to unravel the deception and get to the truth. And it took time for my son to make the personal shift in accepting responsibility for some of his actions. He wanted help, but only for the severe anxiety and depression he was experiencing. He didn’t want to admit he had a gaming addiction. So, in front of me he didn’t play video games, but he certainly did it behind my back whenever the pull of addiction took over again.
I couldn’t control his every move, I couldn’t speak with his professors, the doctor, or his counselors. I had to go out on a limb and trust that he recognized he was loved and supported, and then wait until he was ready to relent to the realization that playing video games, excessively was problematic, for not just me, but for him, as well. There were times I was afraid we’d never get there. But I continued to support him, I continued to tell him I understood how difficult his process was, and I continued to believe that the foundation for success was in place.
This doesn’t mean that it’s too late if you haven’t laid down a foundation of rules and followed through. It doesn’t mean you can’t reach your child who is suffering with this addiction. You have laid down the foundation of a loving parent. This means a lot to your child. And although they may be consumed with an addiction to video gaming, what they really want to be doing is making you proud. They have strayed from the goal and need help in regulating back on the right path. Whether or not your child or adult child are ready to be compliant and accept your help, there are some things that you can do at home. Here are ten excellent online gaming and screen use guidelines for parents that are recommended by Dr. Diana Yang, former video gaming addict, and now founder of Restart Life, Not Your Device. https://www.limbicacupuncture.com/publications/screen-addiction-guidelines-for-parents
I know this disorder can be extremely detrimental to a family’s dynamic, and it is a sensitive area to broach, especially with teens and adult children. Don’t give up. Look for help in any form, and start building a new foundation for success.