Hi, I am a boy that is really troubled. First of all, I am addicted to video games, I feel like without them I feel sad. My parents argue a lot and they both complain to me about each other and I just feel annoyed and I just want to play video games. However, my addiction has gone too far and my marks in school have dropped a lot, they have dropped enough that I might have to retake a year of school. I was wondering what is the best way to get rid of this addiction? I just can't leave and each time I turn it off I just feel so compelled to turn it on again.
What a wonderful letter! Thank you for being such a wise young man and helping other kids and parents pay attention to the issues you have so powerfully expressed.
You have put into words the feelings of countless kids who find themselves more and more addicted to video games -- with serious consequences. While there actually are designers who use gaming to teach things like problem-solving (see Jane McGonigal), most developers do their best to create games that you will not want to turn off. "One more level!" "Five more minutes!" These are phrases many parents are familiar with as their kids promise to disconnect so they can start homework or come to dinner, only to lose themselves again until mom or dad come howling at them again to switch things off.
Here are my thoughts:
Speak up for yourself. Yes, part of your challenge has to do with the addictive nature of video games, but as you have so poignantly said, when there is stress around you, losing yourself in a game seems like a great idea.
It is not appropriate for parents to complain about one another to their child if they are frustrated. It makes perfect sense to me that you would want to escape into something fun and stimulating that "drowns out" the noise of their complaints. Please ask your parents to listen to you share what it feels like to be caught in the middle of their problems. If need be, ask them to do some family counseling to create healthy boundaries.
If you are feeling sad and depressed and video games are the only way to temporarily feel better, I urge you to speak with your school counselor or a family therapist. You are smart to realize that putting a Band-aid on painful feelings is not a true fix. Please get the help you need and deserve.
As far as your addiction goes, know that being aware of a problem is the first step to solving it. The next time you feel a desire to tune out by turning on your game system, pause. Take three or four breaths and just notice how you feel. Tense? Anxious? Excited? Sad? Bored?
Increase the gap between feeling restless and turning on your games. See how long you can wait, noticing the sensations you feel in your body. Is there a fluttering in your stomach? A tension in your shoulders? What thoughts are you thinking? Are you telling yourself there's nothing to do? Are you convincing yourself that there's no point in studying for your next exam because you're already failing? Are you making promises that you'll just play "for 10 more minutes"?
Address the external family tension that makes you want to escape into your games, and start paying close attention to the thoughts and feelings that trigger your desire to turn on your device. By becoming more mindful of what you're experiencing, you will be able to make real changes in your video game use.
May I congratulate you again for being so insightful, and thank you for sharing with us all so bravely. I wish you all the best!
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Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.