As a coach, I hear from many parents who share with me how frustrated they are because their spouse, boyfriend, or partner refuses to acknowledge that their child has a video gaming addiction. And I understand their grievances for a couple reasons. Number one, ignoring a mental health issue within a family doesn’t help the child and only serves to undermine all of the work one parent is doing to try to resolve the problem. And number two, I was in this position myself at one time.
When our son became severely addicted to video gaming at age nineteen, while away at university, he reached out and asked for help with his anxiety and depression. But he refused to acknowledge that he had an addiction problem. At 6’2” in height and just 127 lbs, my son had given up vital things like grooming, eating, and attending classes, to sit in his school residence and play video games all night long until he’d pass out, sleep all day, and then repeat the cycle. His addiction to gaming quickly became obvious to me. And I knew he couldn’t fight this gaming dependency on his own. He needed our family’s help and support. But my husband couldn’t face recognizing or dealing with the issue at hand. And this became a problem. Trying to detox our son from gaming was hard work. I needed an ally and I needed my spouse to pick up some of the slack before I burned out.
As with many addicts, in order to protect his need to game, our son became adept at the art of lying and manipulation. I had to always be one step ahead of him and pay attention to the signs that he was gaming behind our backs when he should have been abstaining. I would often question him to see if he’d own up to his deception. I could tell by his body language and tone of voice whether he was being truthful or not. And when I felt he was lying, I’d press with more questions. My husband was uncomfortable with this and would attempt to shut it down as quickly as possible. He’d tell me to stop grilling our son. He wouldn’t participate and have any discussions about how problematic the addiction had become for our family. And as a result of his ambivalence and protests, I became the bad parent, and he’d sabotage all of the work I was doing to help our son.
Eventually, I became so frazzled by his clear lack of commitment to the cause, that I sat him down and had an honest discussion about why he wasn’t able both recognize the addiction and then step up and do what he needed to do, as a parent. I appreciated that my husband was able to articulate where his limitation stemmed from. He told me that his own parents were always in his business, as a child and still today as an adult and he found it extremely irritating. They were invasive and judgmental and he felt like he was never able to lead a life of his own, away from their scrutiny. He didn’t want to be like that with his own children. Of course, that explanation made sense to me and I thanked him for his honesty. This was a childhood and parenting issue he’d never resolved, and it was now leaking into his own ability as a father. The problem was that his adult son actually needed his father to be in his business. He was in trouble and had no impulse control with gaming. He was also suffering with anxiety and depression, and he’d reached out for our help. We both had a responsibility to do whatever we could to help our son. Until my husband could find the middle ground, the gray area, and find a way to be involved in a constructive way, I asked him to please step aside and allow me to handle things, on my own. He could no longer sabotage my work, as it was actually hurting our son and thwarting any progress I was making with him. My husband agreed to this plan, and then spent some of that time reflecting and working through what his role and responsibility should be. Eventually, with a lot of hard work our son saw that gaming was problematic for both the family, for himself and his future, and he committed to a life of video gaming sobriety. By then, my husband understood, was onboard, and supported this part of the journey.
There are many reasons a parent will turn a blind eye and not wish to deal with an addiction issue with their child. Their own childhood dynamics may shine a light on their apprehension to engage and roll up their sleeves to do the hard work it takes to stop the addictive behaviour in the home. There are questions one can ask a parent to uncover the answer. Were their parents heavy handed in their discipline and in having that experience, they’ve decided to now parent with very little structure or discipline? Were their parents absent too much and was there little playtime in the home, and now they just want to raise chill kids who have as much freedom as they want to play? Were they the eldest child who spent their childhood helping to raise younger siblings and do extra chores in the home, and they now want their child to not have to grow up as fast as they did? Taking a look at parenting history and the outcome of a decided parenting style, as a result of that history can be key to unraveling why a parent is refusing to see a problem with addiction. This scenario can be helped with the guidance of an objective outsider, like a counselor or parent coach. These professionals can help a parent to see where they need to make changes and how they can get onboard with their partner and choose a parenting style that works, and gets a couple on the same page in their approach to the addiction issue at hand.
There are also those parents who feel so overwhelmed when the addictive behaviour of the child has become unmanageable. They refuse to see a problem because by recognizing one they then need to roll up their sleeves and do the work that’s required to help their child. And they just don’t know how. They just see the issue as something they just aren’t prepared to handle. They then retreat and ignore it, hoping it resolves itself. These are the parents who use terms like, “boys will be boys” or “he’ll grow out of it”, “it’s just a phase”. This is a time that education is required to help this parent understand that the addiction is real. And this can still be a challenge because video gaming addiction is a relatively new term, with even some medical professionals still not recognizing it. There are a lot of books, websites, and videos available to help to enlighten a parent about the signs and repercussions of this addiction.
Some parents have their own issues with their use of technology and may not want to look at their child’s excessive use. This would mean that they also need to make some changes with their phone, laptop, or gaming habits. An addiction is a family issue, it’s not just the addict’s problem. It’s vital for success that everyone in the family looks at their own use of technology and agrees to find ways to better regulate themselves in order to support the gaming addicted child in the home.
There are also couples who have not agreed on a parenting style that works best for the family, and have been raising their children in a conflicting manner from the get go. One may be more heavy handed and disciplinary than the other. One may agree to allow their children more freedom to make their own choices, while the other parent likes more structure and rules. It is inevitable that they would not agree on an addiction issue in the home. And if they did, they would have two completely different ways to look at how to manage the toxic behaviour. This is also seen with parents who have separated or divorced and the child is raised in two separate homes in two separate parenting styles. While one parent is regulating gaming time in their home, the other parent is allowing unlimited gaming time at all hours of the day and night at their place. This scenario may require an objective mediator and/or family counselling to help get both families on track for the best interest of the child/children.
As a parent coach, I suggest removing the word, Addiction and replacing it with the word, Problematic. If parents can’t agree that their child is addicted, it doesn’t really matter. But they can agree that the behaviour is problematic to the child and to the family. This is a time for a discussion to make statements such as the following, “When our child games late into the night and early morning hours, they are difficult to wake for school each day, and that’s a problem” or “When our child games all evening and doesn’t get homework done, their grades slip, and that’s a problem” or “When I ask our child to stop gaming, they become volatile, disrespectful, and harm others, and that’s a problem”, or “When our child plays video games for twelve straight hours, they don’t eat or drink, and are losing weight and suffering chronic fatigue, and that’s problematic”. This is a time to state concerning facts and scenarios with the child to their other parent, in an authentic, caring way. And it’s also a time to ask the other parent how they see the toxic gaming behaviour as problematic for themselves and/or their child. Make a list and and then have an honest discussion about how to approach and change some of this problematic behaviour.
If there are still questions about whether or not the child has an addiction issue, speaking with a professional together or separately may help to clarify some of the blurred lines of communication and perspective on this subject. A parent can still do their best to help a child and hopefully influence them in a healthy way, whether they have the other parent’s agreement or not. And when it becomes a solo journey, having the support of a counselor or coach can ease and lighten some of the burden.
For more information, you can read the nine signs of video gaming disorder identified by the American Psychiatric Association, as well as a list of resources for parents available on my website within the dropdown menu titled Coaching.