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Real Talk: Dealing with video game addiction

A mom's perspective

real talk, parents of teens, dealing with video game addiction

Today's teens are growing to adulthood in a world vastly different than ever before. Many issues modern adolescents face didn't even exist when I was their age.

Video games today are almost unrecognizable when compared to the ones I played as a kid. I grew up playing ColecoVision, Atari and Nintendo 64. Today's game consoles make those three systems seem primitive in comparison.

Setting rules and limits
Approximately 88% of American children play video games. Yet many of their parents (including myself) grew up in a pre-internet world. Having no frame of reference to base our rules upon, it can be tough to decide what they should be.

RELATED: Screen-savvy tips for your family

These days, my rules and limits are derived from two sources: my husband's input and my own gut feeling. And to date, that has worked out quite well.

As a parent and a teacher, I notice that young kids are more likely to have “screen time” rules set for them than older kids and teens. For me, regarding my almost 13-year-old, I’ll admit this is also true, but only to a point. While she does have less rules and more freedom with the internet and her devices than her little sister does, rules and limits still exist. In addition, my oldest daughter’s internet usage and social media accounts are also closely monitored.

Negative effects of gaming
Local teacher Nicole Scalzo of Poughkeepsie has seen the negative effects gaming can have on young people firsthand. "Students have told me that their classmates swear at them while playing Fortnite," she says. "Friends end up not speaking to one another due to online disputes from the night before."

Professor Dr. Brian Primack warns parents that allowing kids to play video games does come with risks. He recommends:

Limiting or disallowing violent games. Violent video games are currently limited for my 12-year-old, and completely disallowed for my 4-year-old. Primack claims violent role-playing can increase the likelihood that a child will display aggressive behaviors to resolve conflicts. Also, developmentally, a 12-year-old can separate fantasy from reality while a 4-year-old cannot. Thus, the rules for each of my children should be different.

Too much gaming can lead to isolation. While Primack believes in-game collaboration renders the isolation issue less problematic, I disagree. I want my children playing with tangible objects and real people, and not solely communicating online.

Currently, my daughters do not have set limits on screen time. My reason for this is that I prefer they learn to self-regulate. However, their usage is closely monitored. If I feel they are spending too much time on devices, warnings are given. If nothing changes, their devices get locked away for a time.

I call this "detox."

RELATED: 17 screen-free activities

How parents can help
If you suspect your child has a gaming addiction, seeking out professional help is the best possible first step. At home, however, you can also help your child.

Some ways include:

·        Removing all electronic devices from view. When my kids lose their devices, at first, they act like the world is ending. Yet soon enough, miraculously, they adjust and find other things to do. Placing games and devices out of sight and out of mind does help.

·        Stay off your devices when around them. If you unplug and live without a screen, this shows your kids that they can do the same thing and still be OK.

·        Spend time with your child. Scheduling quality time with the afflicted child shows them how much you care. This also helps reinforce the notion that you are not taking away their devices and games out of spite, but because you love them.

·        Enroll them in extracurriculars. Both of my daughters play sports, take dance, and play instruments. This keeps them busy, active, engaged, and bonus: it takes their mind off of screens for a while!

Jill Valentino is a wife, mom of two, elementary educator, and lifelong resident of the Hudson Valley. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Medium @doublesmom77.

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