Do You Think Your Child is Addicted to Video Games?

Dr. David Greenfield has a conversation with Sue Schaefer on how to identify this problem, and what to do about it.


It seems like we toss around the term “addiction” rather easily.

Chocolate, shoes, yoga, puggles, Pinterest; we can’t just like something a lot, we have to be “addicted” to it. But, what actually constitutes a real addiction?

Actually, there are two types of addictions: substance addictions and behavioral addictions. With a behavioral addiction, a person will obsessively think about, and compulsively engage in an activity, even though there are harmful consequences. If your son spends all his waking hours counting down the minutes until he can play Call of Duty, you may have a problem. If he has stopped studying, hanging out with friends, or sleeping to get in more playing time, you definitely have a problem.

As I mentioned last week, I recently sat down to discuss video game addiction with Dr. David Greenfield author of Virtual Addiction. He is one of the leading authorities on internet and cyber psychology, including its use and abuse.

Sue: Let’s start with the obvious – can playing video games be addictive?

Dr. Dave: The unpredictability and novelty of the internet medium itself is addictive. Video games work on the principal of operant conditioning. When playing the game, the reward center of the brain is stimulated releasing dopamine, a powerful “feel good” chemical in the brain. In addition, the player doesn’t know when the reward is coming, making it all the more addictive. He or she will continuously play, looking for that “hit” of dopamine.

Sue: It seems boys are more attracted to video games than girls. Why is this?

Dr. Dave: Boys are more likely to become addicted to video games because they are hardwired for competition. It is easier and less stressful to have virtual social interactions, and it gives them the opportunity to be “King of the Hill” in the virtual world, which is something they might not get in the real world.

Sue: One way to get a kid to stop playing is to just throw the Xbox away. Is that what you would tell parents to do?

Dr. Dave: Getting rid of the gaming device, while it seems like a good idea, isn’t the best way to handle a video game addiction. In extreme cases a child can get violent when it is taken away due to the withdrawal component. You want to break the cycle without causing a rift in the family.

Sue: What should parents do to break that cycle?

Dr. Dave: Before a child can be weaned off the virtual world, it is imperative to strengthen real world experiences. There are other ways to increase dopamine levels, such as sports, academic accomplishments, and trying out for plays. Having alternative activities also has the benefit of eating up time, which leaves less time for gaming. Of course, parents should limit and monitor use of video games, texting, and social networking. Just being more involved in your child’s life will help your child kick the habit.

Do you think your child may have a video game addiction? How about an addiction to texting or the internet? If you do, come hear Dr. Greenfield speak about this subject at in West Hartford on Wednesday, Feb. 29 at 7 p.m. There will be an opportunity to ask questions following the presentation.

Sue Schaefer is a student advocate, academic coach, and certified teacher. We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com.

You can also follow Sue on twitter: @sueschaefer1

M Donna February 27, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Personally I think a lot of the problem lies in misunderstanding the causes. Kids don't play video games in lieu of real world achievements -- they play video games because real world achievements are so very often out of reach for them. The dialogue briefly touched upon it -- 'which is something they might not get in the real world' -- but you can't 'force' a child to achieve. You can only look at why they aren't. And the answer is more likely not 'because they're playing too many video games', but rather something else which has caused them to retreat into that safety.
Cynthia Kobus February 27, 2012 at 11:13 AM
I think its a lot simpler. Parents let their kids play video games constantly so they don't have to be parents. Not just at home.. but in the car, restaurant, on vacation... It's easier that dealing with the whining. Video games are fun. If I were little and my mom let me I would play all the time (which I did when I was little. Can you say space invaders??) This is not a child problem.. It's a parent problem. Just like a kid staying up until 3 am texting is a parent problem.
M Donna February 27, 2012 at 12:27 PM
While that may work in some cases, it certainly won't work in all, and I think that treating the symptoms instead of the cause can potentially be a very dangerous way of handling the situation. One cannot watch one's children 24/7, 365 days a year, no matter how much one would love to be able to protect them to that level -- the extreme of a child being awake at 3 AM is certainly something which could be handled by the parent as-is, but there are other, more insidious issues that can't be controlled so easily. What if the child is still doing their schoolwork, still going to sleep on time -- but they spend every available moment /besides/ that playing video games instead of normal childhood activities (well, normal for the past anyway) -- is that still addiction? I certainly think so. While it may not be negatively affecting their school performance, it certainly /is/ negatively affecting their ability to learn and grow in social aspects. One can't simply turn off the XBox, put them outside, and lock the door until 7 PM -- that will not 'force' children to become social if they already have some underlying cause beyond video games that is causing them to avoid it. They will simply find some other outlet to avoid what they are afraid of or find too difficult.
M Donna February 27, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Having read some of your other blog posts, I think maybe we're just thinking about children of a different age. When I say 'children' and 'video game addiction' I usually mean older children (14-18). Obviously younger children probably don't have quite the same kind of perspective on social pressures and rejection that older teens run from.
Cynthia Kobus February 27, 2012 at 07:20 PM
while I do understand that children of different ages must be looked at differently, I think people today take way too much liberty in finding causes for problems instead of looking at things introspectively. If I let my son play as much as he wanted, he would play all day. I can only assume that as he grew he would become more obsessive about it and possibly be labeled as "addicted" to video games. If that in fact happened, I would have no problem looking at myself as a major contributor to his problem. It is clearly easier not to take responsibility by looking back and saying "how did I let this happen?" Are there exceptions? Probably.. Also, why is it that we feel all children should be "social" ? I don't see a shy child as a problem. We make it a problem. " Johnny won't play with other kids. Johnny is only social with adults.." Well maybe Johnny got burned a few times and is sick of childish behavior. I say good for him. But There are plenty of things a child like that can do other than sit in front of a game. Parents need to be proactive and find what those things are. Which will take time, effort and a whole lot of love.... And yes, I do have a child that struggles socially, so I do know what it is like.


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