Computer Game Addiction – A Critical Mistake Parents Make When Trying To Help A Child Or Teen

In 2007 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) issued a statement on the inclusion of “video game addiction” as an official disorder in the next published version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).Despite acknowledging that “a child who spends excessive amount of time playing video games may be exposed to violence and may be at higher risk for behavioral and other health problems”, the APA concluded that video game addiction did not warrant official diagnostic status at the time. However, the association also stated that inclusion in future editions of the DSM would be considered “if the science warrants it.”Regardless of whether video game or computer game addiction is officially designated as a clinical disorder, some gamers clearly demonstrate unhealthy and excessive levels of play.For example, a teenager who consistently spends most of his non-school hours playing computer games, chooses video games over spending time with friends, quits activities he used to enjoy, and has deteriorating school grades may indeed have a problem keeping his computer game habits under control. In situations like these, concerned parents often attempt to intervene and help their child develop more moderate and healthier gaming habits.A Common MistakeUnfortunately, well-meaning parents occasionally make a critical mistake that can greatly reduce the likelihood of a successful intervention. They get stuck on making their child admit that he is “addicted”.For most addiction treatments and interventions, it is assumed that one must acknowledge the addiction and admit that a problem exists. For example, overcoming alcoholism is much more likely if one acknowledges the addiction and how much damage it has caused in his / her life.However, for children and teens parents do not need to convince them that their play is problematic or that they are addicted to video games. A strong state of denial about harmful consequences is almost a prerequisite for an addiction to develop and persist. Those who are addicted to video games (children, adolescents, and adults) will deny negative personal consequences of excessive gaming and will downplay how their habits impact others who care about them.Even as numerous negative consequences become apparent to others (failing grades, deteriorating health, and poor interpersonal relationships) a teen may explain these happenings in a way that does not implicate computer games. The goal is to rationalize and justify the behavior so that gaming can continue. With children and adolescents, parents do not need to let them reach “rock bottom” because they can initiate change on their behalf before they are ready or willing to acknowledge the problem.As previously mentioned, unlike an adult who is addicted to a substance or a behavior (e.g., alcohol, drugs, gambling, and computer games), a child does not need to admit that he is addicted to games for change to happen. Parents have the power (or can regain the power) to make decisions that are in a child’s best interests. Yes, the reasoning behind decisions should be explained, but they do not need to convince the child that the reasoning is correct prior to taking action.Is There Hope?When clear limits are set and enforced, when consequences for violations are expected, when rewards for cooperation are possible, when the ease of access is reduced, when alternative activities are encouraged, and when enabling is reduced, children and teens can recover from computer game addiction…even if they never fully acknowledged it as a problem.

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