Help! I Think My Adult Child is Addicted to Video Games!

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Help! I Think My Adult Child is Addicted to Video Games!

Originally posted on Sept. 16, 2007.  Updating and re-posting due to technical issues.

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, you have already determined whether your adult 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 & hostility, 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?) or employment (frequent absenteeism from work, inability to hold a job?)

What to do?

If your adult child lives in your home, you're still in charge and you make the rules. Don't ever forget that. 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 parental control programs, though most adult children who are computer-savvy will hack right around these. If you wish to try moderation, 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 in your home. 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 an internet plan with the slowest upload/download speeds possible. 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. Signing up to be a Big Brother/Big Sister would be an excellent suggestion for an adult child who is looking to fill time. Other types of volunteer work would be another good suggestion. 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, siblings) 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. Do not enable your adult child in any way. Do not pay the internet bill or the monthly game subscription for them. Do not bring food to them at the computer. Do not do their laundry or clean their room for them. Do not call in sick to work for them.

If you feel your adult 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 of this site. 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.

Be aware that there is a withdrawal syndrome that occurs when computer games are removed. Most young adults 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 adult children 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 word about education: When many kids turn 18, the expectation is that they will go to college, particularly the ones who are as intelligent as these kids usually are.A If your child has been actively addicted or has recently quit gaming and has not yet developed a full life outside of the games, do NOT send them to college if it involves living away from home in a dorm or apartment. 24/7 high-speed internet two steps from their bed, classes they do not necessarily have to attend, and no parents around to tell them when to shut the computer down for the night makes this a recipe for disaster. Unless the child is willing to pay 100% of tuition and fees up front out of their pocket, you are risking a significant amount of your money if you send a gamer to college. Athletic and academic scholarships can be lost forever in one semester if your child does not maintain an acceptable GPA.

If you have tried everything to get your child to stop playing and nothing is working, you have one more option with adult children. You are no longer legally required to provide food and shelter to an adult child.  If you have made your home a game-free zone, which is your perfect right, and your child continues to violate the rules, you can legally tell them to move out and support themselves and their game.  Check the laws in your state or country first to find out what your rights are if your child does not voluntarily leave your home.  For instance, in New York you have to go to court to remove a child under the age of 21 from your home,but in many states you can do it after they turn 18.  You are not obligated to continue to pay the bills and stand by and watch while your child throws their life away.  If they were addicted to heroin, you would not stand by and watch your child shoot up in your house, would you?  If you plan to remove your child from the home, be sure they know the rules up front, and give them a timeline of what will happen if they break the rules.

If your adult child does not live in your house and is financially independent, there is very little you can do to stop him/her from gaming until s/he decides to on his/her own. Make sure you are not enabling your child in any way. Do not pay bills, bring food, give money, do laundry, or clean house. Invite your child out frequently. If you would like to cook for him/her, do it at YOUR house, in a family setting.

A final word: Be sympathetic to your child. These games were designed by experts using well-known paychologic principles to draw your child in and keep him there. This is not his/her 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.

"Small service is true service while it lasts.  Of humblest friends, bright creature! scorn not one

The daisy, by the shadow that it casts,

Protects the lingering dewdrop from the sun." -------William Wordsworth