How a Parent Can Cope With Their (Under Age 18) Child's Game Addiction

Welcome to OLG-Anon!

Because the same questions keep coming up over and over again, and because we want help to be available instantly to anyone who comes here, I am posting this to summarize the advice that has been given to parents over the years here. After reading this, please feel free to post your story.

If you have read the "Self-Test" posted in the Introduction section Is OLGA For You?, you have already determined whether your child has a definite problem with video games. If not, the short version is:

  • Has playing video games interfered significantly with your child's life in the areas of education (falling grades, failures, frequent absences?)
  • health (weight gain due to inactivity or weight loss due to not eating while gaming, back pains due to prolonged sitting, increased acne?)
  • family relationships (holed-up in his/her room, skipping family activities, personality changes such as anger & hotility, particularly when access to the game is interrupted?)
  • social relationships (friends slipping away, doesn't return calls from friends, no longer participates in sports/activities/hobbies previously enjoyed?)
  • employment (if s/he has a job, frequent absenteeism from work, inability to hold a job?)

What to do?

You may be tempted to try to get your child to limit his/her playing and play in moderation. None of us wants to deprive our child of something s/he enjoys. You should know that, if your child is truly addicted, this will be difficult, if not impossible. 

There are many parental control programs, and some games allow you to set controls for minor children, particularly World of Warcraft. If you attempt this, set up a contract with your child that spells out clearly how much time will be allowed, what must be done to earn the time, and the consequences of exceeding the limits. The first time the contract is broken should be the last time your child plays the game. Period. No arguing, no excuses.

What to do once you've decided to remove the game entirely, from most drastic to least:

  • Cancel your internet access if you feel that you and the rest of the family can get along without it. If you cannot cancel the access entirely, consider switching to dial-up. This does make it more difficult, though not completely impossible, to play most sophisticated MMORPG's
  • Remove the computer and internet connection from your child's room. If you decide to follow the oft-heard recommendation to keep the family computer in a public place, keep in mind that these kids often play at night when you are asleep, so a computer in the living room, kitchen, or family room far from your bedroom is not a good idea. The best place for a computer in a house with an addict is in your bedroom. If at all possible, the main internet connection should be in your bedroom also, and you may need to install a lock on your door for when you are not at home. If the connection is in a public area of the house, take the modem to work with you and to bed with you at night.
  • If you feel your child absolutely MUST have his/her own computer (NOT recommended), make it the oldest and slowest old computer you can find, but keep in mind that these kids will find a way to play on ANY computer.
  • Once you've removed the computer, your job is not done. You must help your child find something else to do to fill his/her time. Encourage him/her to pursue hobbies s/he previously enjoyed: sports, models, reading, music, art, crafts, sewing, knitting, paintball, rollerblading, bike riding,, skateboarding. Consider scout troops, church youth groups, local community theater groups, day camps, overnight camps. 
  • Print out relevant posts from OLGA for your child to read. Encourage him/her to come here and post if they feel like it. There is a private forum for gamers where s/he he can post things that you cannot read, and a private forum for family/friends where you can do the same, once you become members.

You and all the other adults in the house (spouse, significant other, grandparents) must be on the same page as much as possible about this. If someone in the house doubts that this is a problem, send them here to read and learn. You may need to consider marital counseling for yourselves if there is significant discord in your marriage.

If you feel your child is having issues with depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness symptoms, particularly if the symptoms existed before s/he got addicted to the game, consider getting professional help. 

If your child expresses ANY suicidal thoughts or has done so in the past, you MUST seek professional help, and probably should do so BEFORE removing access to the game.

There are links to some providers and facilities in the Professional References section.

If none of those is near you, find a provider who understands and deals regularly with addiction, and be sure you make the provider aware of the gaming issue up front.  If the mental health professional you choose discounts the existence of computer gaming addiction, consider finding someone else. If you find a professional who is familiar with addiction in general and willing to learn more about gaming addiction (and if you yourself would like to learn more), there is a small paperback book called Plugged In, by Terry Waite, that explains a lot about this addiction in a nutshell, and is directed both at families and therapists.

Be aware that there is a withdrawal syndrome that occurs when computer games are removed:  Withdrawal Symptoms  Most children will be very restless and irritable when awake, but will sleep for hours and hours. This is normal, particularly in the first few weeks. It can take up to 30 days for cravings to decrease significantly. 

Some children, especially older ones, may have significant anger when you remove the game, and there have been cases of violence, both threatened and real, against parents who have impeded an older child's access to a game. If this is a concern, make sure you protect yourself and have backup available when you remove access to games. Some parents here have instituted a program of never leaving the gamer alone without adult supervision during the first several weeks without the game. A few have found it necessary to have the child forcibly removed from the home for treatment. Your individual situation will need to be considered carefully.

A final word: Be sympathetic to your child. These games were designed by experts using well-known psychologic principles to draw your child in and keep him there. This is not the childs's fault. It is also not your fault, so don't waste time beating up on yourself with "what ifs".  Most of us have done our best for our kids all their lives, but this addiction came out of the blue and blindsided us. You are not a bad parent. If you were a bad parent, you would not be here looking for a way to help your child. Welcome to OLG-Anon. We are here for you.

To read and share personal stories, go here: I Need Help for Parents of Gamers (Open Forum) and here: Discussion by Parents (Private Forums)