As a parent, are you wondering how your child can spend several hours straight, online with the same group of people, day after day, night after night, playing the same video games, and not wanting for more in their life.

Is playing video games for excessive amounts of time, with other virtual players, fostering healthy camaraderie and friendships for your child? Like most parents, you likely feel these are not “real” friends, but your gaming child believes otherwise.

Did you know that your child values their relationships with other gamers more than they value the game itself?

It is not actually the interactive games themselves that attract individuals to play. Sure, they’re fun and they’re interactive entertainment. And winning feels powerful. 

But if a child has stopped engaging with their peers and family outside of video gaming and this is their only source of friendships, then they are seeking much more.

Despite what we think is driving the digital world today, seeking entertainment is not the priority. The engaging mechanisms of a player’s brain filters out all of that sensory and cognitive activity to get to the heart of what matters most. The user’s dominant and primary need is “connection” and their attachment status with others. 

They want to be reassured that they belong to a community and that they matter. They want to be understood and they want to be invited in. This is what multi-player, interactive video games attempt to foster.

If someone becomes victimized in life, by being bullied or ostracized, then their empathy will naturally shift towards all other gamers like them. They will be drawn to find other victims, a place where they feel accepted. These will be the gamers who play without restrictions for endless numbers of hours. They are all looking for the same sense of connection. And once they feel the power of this virtual network, they will want more of it. It serves as a great distraction from their internal emotional pain.

If a child also feels a disconnect within their home, not feeling heard or understood by mom and/or dad, they may look online for personal connection.

Other players are not purposely trying to out a player against their parents, but once players begin to vent their frustrations, then it’s a natural human reaction, for those experiencing something similar, to rally around in support. 

These online peers now mitigate an already painful experience the gamer is having – anxiety, loneliness, isolation, and disconnection within their tangible world.

And this is where parents feel they start losing control of the gaming issue with their child. 

Of course, they want them to have friends, they want their child to feel a part of a group, a part of something they enjoy. But when it tips to the extreme and these online friends are their only source of connection, it becomes worrisome for parents.

Digital relationships cannot give one the fulfillment needed to create security. When we are physically in the presence of someone who cares about us, the body releases a feel good love hormone called Oxytocin. This is vital to helping a child develop empathy, trust, and relationship-building. Online friendships cannot mimic this release.

As a faceless voice, eye contact and physical touch is also missing.

It’s similar to eating junk food and expecting our bodies to receive a health benefit from it. And the more junk we eat, the less nutrition we receive.

The more one seeks this kind of empty connection and believes they are making meaningful relationships, the more they will want of it, and eventually it just never satisfies. And playing video games for excessive amounts of time, ignoring basic needs such as eating, grooming, exercising, attending school and having face-to-face interactions with family and tangible friends is creating damaging changes to a still developing brain. Many young gamers will have sleep disturbances and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

With the distraction and compulsion for video gaming, a child is no longer receptive to guidance, nurturing, and direction from their parent. They lose sight of the fact that they still require this for full growth and development. They get a false sense of security while gaming and don’t consider what’s importance otherwise – getting an education, creating tangible friendships, physical fitness, healthy eating, looking toward their futures. 

And the longer a child rejects the ideals their parents are trying to teach, the further away a parent feels from a solution. Frustrations mount, desperate attempts at control lead to a battleground in the home. And the child pulls further away from their family life and moves closer to their virtual world. 

This is the essence of the addictive video gaming pattern.

This is a time for parents to pull back, to stop engaging in fights with their child. It’s time to take a good look at where the sense of disconnection began for their child and how they can help them to find it outside of video games.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Why does my child feel no sense of attachment in their tangible world? 

What triggered my child go online to look for connection? Have they been bullied? Have I been listening and trying to understand my child’s needs outside of gaming?

Is it easier for my child to create friendships in their virtual world because face-to-face communication is difficult for them?

Does my child have healthy outlets for making new friends through school, extracurricular activities, clubs, and with family friends?

What can I do to help foster a sense of connection for my son or daughter?

Helping your child to understand the need for peer and family interaction outside of gaming is important for their personal growth and development. And if they’ve become addicted to playing video games with their virtual friends, they will feel a sense of commitment and camaraderie. It will be difficult for them to leave this arena. But it is necessary for forward movement. 

This is a time to stay connected, to listen with an open heart, to understand that your son or daughter has been trying to feel less isolated. They have attempted to find a solution through virtual relationships. They need your guidance to make tangible connections and engage with others in a much healthier way. They need your help in detoxing from gaming. 

This can be a challenging time for parents, especially if they feel they don’t have the tools and skills to change the situation. Look for guidance and support from others. Find your own allies and, if needed, seek professional help so you feel less isolated in managing your child’s needs. 

I too experienced the depths of video gaming addiction with my son. Together, we both came out the other end with a positive result, having learned, lovingly supported, and accepted each other through some of the darkest days.