Today’s blog is from Andrew McPeak. Andrew is a next gen researcher, speaker, and author for Growing Leaders.
I recently read a commentary from a parent in the Chicago Tribune that was equally troubling and hilarious. This dad detailed the strange habits of his “Fortnite-obsessed” kids: waking up early to play the game, using strange words like “epic” and “legendary,” and moving around the neighborhood with their friends—one house at a time—until they wore out their welcome. In the end, the dad likens this trend to bottle flipping and fidget spinners, which I am sure is a very real comparison for the parents of teenaged boys.
In reality, however, this trend is different in one very disturbing way: addiction.
A recent article on the Fortnite epidemic found that alarmed doctors are now treating Fortnite-obsessed kids for mental and physical health problems; including everything from “carpal tunnel to sedentary obesity.” Dr. Kate Roberts, a psychologist from Wenham, Massachusetts found that the most disturbing part of the addictive trend is how it changes young kids’ behavior.
“What happens is they start to crave it. If they play it for more than a couple hours, they get into this addictive mode. The dopamine in their brain starts to react to it, and then when they come off of it, they have a crash from the decrease in dopamine. Basically, that makes them angry, irritable, withdrawn.”
As you can see, this is no ordinary fad. So what are parents to do?
Three Ideas to Help Break Video Game Addiction
Addiction is replacing normal desires and brain function with desires that promise to give you chemical rewards in cheap ways. In the case of Fortnite, kids are getting the dopamine rewards of achievement without the work required to achieve through normal means like sports, passing a test, or dating a significant other.
If we want to break the addiction, we’ve got to interrupt this cycle. Here are three ways to do it.
Limit screen time to 1-2 hours a day
Dr. Jean Twenge and Dr. Keith Campbell out of San Diego State University found that even an hour of screen time can start to have negative effects on kids. Based on this research, the greatest gift you might be able to give to your kids is to do what they currently don’t have the decision-making ability to do: get off line. Whether you introduce equations to balance screen time with face to face time, or create ‘device free’ times for the whole family, it’s clear that healthy families are those who intentionally spend time away from screens.
Utilize parental controls on devices and wifi
Along with the advancement of technology, companies have also been advancing their Parental Control technology. Almost every device in the hands of our kids today comes along with parental controls. On the iPhone and iPad it’s called “ScreenTime” but for most devices you just go to the settings page. If you don’t know how to get started, the Youtube channel, Internet Matters, has a playlist with parental control step-by-step guides for all your kid’s favorite devices. Introduce a few guardrails, and your kids will thank you later.
Do something else together
Many kids today consider gaming to be the “best use of their free time.” I’ve heard that exact phrase used by kids from Georgia to Colorado in my focus groups. One of the reasons they start playing these games is because it’s where their friends are, and it’s the most fun thing they can think to do at the moment. That’s why the best thing you can do, is … just about anything else. While it may take some effort, we may need to help them find creative outlets outside of their favorite virtual worlds. Here are three ideas for things you could do with your kids and their friends:
- Buy a new board game and host a group of kids to play
- Have a creative competition (like building legos) and let the kids be the judge
- Take a family walk and end with a treat like ice cream
*Note: If your child is showing the behavioral signs of addiction and some of these ideas aren’t working after a few weeks, you should look into getting help.
One way or the other, we need to help our kids break the gaming habit. I believe that with just a few strategic decisions, we will catch this in time. Just think of what they could accomplish if they were to focus that energy and creativity toward better long-term goals? I think that’s a future worth working toward.
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