“Is My Teen Addicted to Video Games?”
How to Know and What to Do About It

Since their debut in the early 1970’s, video games have been an iconic form of entertainment. While most people can enjoy gaming as an occasional diversion, a growing number of youth seem to be pushing aside family, friends, and activities to spend more time in front of computer screens. Nicknamed “digital heroin,” video game addiction is a growing concern and has been classified as a mental health disorder by The World Health Organization.

So how do parents know if their child’s fantasy world is starting to take over their real life?

Warning signs of gaming addiction

  • Gaming 4+ hours a day

  • Playing for increasing amounts of time

  • Thinking or talking about gaming during other activities

  • Quitting other hobbies

  • Lying to friends or family to conceal gaming

  • Alienating themselves from family, friends, or romantic interests

  • Becoming irritable or miserable when they can’t play video games

  • Neglecting daily responsibilities

  • Declining academic performance

  • Showing physical symptoms including dry eyes, carpel tunnel, weight loss or gain, headaches, or back and neck problems

  • Ignoring personal hygiene

  • Depression, anxiety, or social phobias

So what can a parent do about it?

If you are concerned your child or teen may have a gaming problem, try these tips:

1. Start a log

Before you talk to your child about your concerns, start documenting their behaviors in a log. Write down how many hours a day you notice them gaming. Also, write down negative consequences you are noticing, such as them skipping out on soccer practice or avoiding family meals. Also, record how they react when they have to stop gaming.

2. Communicate with love

When you talk to your child about your concerns, do so from a place of patience and love. In many cases, children use gaming as a form of relief from feelings of sadness or worry, so being stern or critical may only worsen their negative self-image. Talk to them about their good qualities and the things you love about them – share your log with them and express that you are concerned that their gaming is getting in the way of them living their best life.

3. Organize a detox

Like with any other type of addiction, complete abstinence is necessary for success. This can be a bit tricky since computers are so prevalent in our society, so your child will need to adjust to using computers without gaming. Set boundaries and rules regarding computer use, such as only allowing them to use it for school projects during certain times of day. Remove game consoles, block gaming websites, and keep the computer in a highly visible area in the house for easy monitoring.

4. Prepare to be patient

As your child is detoxing, they may be irritable, mopey, or just downright mean. When they are on your last nerve, walk away and focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Not only will this help you keep your cool, it will model healthy emotional regulation to your child, as opposed to burying emotions with gaming.

5. Make Reality More Exciting

You may think your kid is only interested in high speed pursuits or battling mythical creatures, but the truth is that real life experiences will be much more rewarding to them than any video game could ever be. Get the whole family involved in more physical activities – hikes, backyard baseball, or activities with other families. If they are old enough, encourage them to get a part-time job to boost their self-worth. Activities, hobbies, and responsibilities can both boost their mood and distract them from the lure of gaming.

6. Use a reward system

It can be hard for gamers to see why their addiction is a bad thing. A reward system can incentivize them to stick with their detox, even if they don’t fully agree with it. Try using a points system by giving them “10 points” for every day they go without gaming and have them lose 20 points each day that they cave in and play video games. Let them know that when they reach 1000 points, they get to go to an amusement park, have a sleepover party, or some other fun activity.

7. Seek support

Addictions of all types are complex and challenging to overcome, but there is hope. A qualified specialist can help your child address underlying mental health issues that may have led to their addiction. They can teach self-control techniques and tools to help your child find happiness and self-esteem away from the computer screen. 

*Please note: since the publishing of this blog, Variations Psychology has narrowed its focus to diagnostic testing and psychological evaluations. Our Doctors can evaluate whether you or your loved one have a diagnosis and guide you through the next steps in achieving your mental health or academic goals. While Variations does not offer counseling, our diagnostic evaluations allow us to refer patients to specialists who are best equipped to meet their needs. In addition, this link can guide you through a directory of therapists, psychiatrists, treatment centers, and support groups in your area.

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The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the highlighted topic. For a full consultation, assessment, and personalized treatment plan, schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.

More about Variations Psychology

Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.

Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams).

See our Specialists page to select the specialist that best suits your need, or simply give us a call and we will guide you.

Variations Psychology is located in Newport Beach, CA and provides counseling to residents throughout Orange County and its surrounding areas including Newport Beach, Newport Coast, Irvine, Shady Canyon, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Coto de Caza, Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa, Yorba Linda, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Mission Viejo, Pelican Hill, Crystal Cove, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, Lake Forest, Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, Seal Beach, and more.


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Jones Addiction Consultants. Kimberly Young, PsyD, clinical director, Center 

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and author, 

Caught in the Net: How to Recognize the Signs of Internet 

Addiction -- and a Winning Strategy for Recovery. WebMD Feature: 

Internet to Sex: Defining Addiction. Howard, project manager, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., 

Center for On-Line Addiction: "Are You an Obsessive Online Gamer?" and 

"Frequently Asked Questions About Internet Addiction."