Video Game Addiction

Doh!

Many of the families I see at The Ann Arbor Center for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics have at least one child who occupies most of their time with a video game system.  While many ‘tweens’ and adolescents enjoy video games, I see many children who have diagnoses of Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Delay-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) whose interest in this electronic media stretches beyond simple enjoyment.  Especially during the junior high and teen years when children are feeling more socially isolated or have preexisting social skills difficulties that make interpersonal interactions uncomfortable; video games provide an escape.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines recommend that parents limit a child’s “screen time” (includes video games, computer, television) to one to two hours per day at most.  An alternative that I often recommend to my families is to limit screen time to one hour on school nights and two to three hours a day on weekends and holidays.  My intention is not to make the child’s life miserable (which they often accuse me of trying to do!) but rather to open up opportunities for relationships.  Notice I recommend that parents limit, not eliminate video games.  Video games are not interactive between people.  Even if your child plays with a friend in the same room or online, this is not a spontaneous and reciprocal social interaction.  Indeed, if you turned off the video game and asked the two kids in the room to get a conversation going for more than a few minutes, they would inevitably become uncomfortable and want to discuss or return to playing the video game.

In the world of autism spectrum, professionals like myself are always concerned about Comfort Zone activities.   An autistic child’s Comfort Zone is his neuropsychological sense of comfort that occurs when he is doing what he wants and likes to do, especially when he is repeating activities.  The comfort zone is based on the child’s atypical neurological system that makes the child want to keep the world the same.  Thus, Comfort Zone activities for the young child may begin as lining up toys, progress to obsession with trains, and then morph into video game addiction during the teen years.

Although the strategies for how to wean a child from excessive video game usage vary from family to family, a few bits of advice may provide a good start:

  • Make conversation a priority in you home.
  • Read to your children.
  • Don’t use video games as a reward or punishment.
  • Encourage active recreation.
  • Get the TV sets and video game systems out of your children’s bedrooms.

Children who excessively play video games tend to do so for a reason.   Whether it is loneliness, social skills difficulties, feelings of isolation, anxiety, or depression; the use of video games becomes self-medicating and a means to quickly pass the time.  The strategies mentioned above are only a drop in the bucket if your child is experiencing difficulties in any of the areas just mentioned.  If you are fortunate enough to be reading this article while your child is still young, the best form of intervention is prevention.  So start early and set those limits now while encouraging more appropriate use of your child’s time.  Get them involved in fun activities out of the home to keep them interested and active.  If your child is already hooked into the video games for an excessive amount of time, it may be worthwhile to seek a professional consultation to begin breaking the so-called video game “addiction.”

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2 Comments

Filed under Asperger's, Autism, Child Development, Parenting

2 responses to “Video Game Addiction

  1. Katherine

    Yes, we have the constant battle with screen time and trying to figure out a balance while keeping our son in the loop on things that other boys are interested in. Now he is buried in novels. Most experts would say reading is great. But it is also not social. What is a time limit you would put on reading?

    • Katherine–
      Thanks for your thoughtful response. ‘Reading Addiction’ is another possible concern. However, I find that reading can be advantageous to parents trying to help their child with analytic/gray-level thinking rather than the black-and-white logic often utilized by children on the high functioning end of the spectrum. You are correct, reading in and of itself is not social. However, discussion about what you are reading is. When families are struggling with similar concerns about being ‘buried in novels,’ I often recommend that mom or dad get their own copy and read the book at the same time as their child. I then suggest that they have a ‘book club’ of sorts and discuss the book together. This allows the child to share the experience and fantasy of the novel rather than just keeping it to himself. When the child begins to feel more comfortable discussing topics with parents, this comfort eventually translates to peers. Here are some tips for how to discuss your son’s books with him:

      • During conversations get the beginning, middle, and end of the plot – identify problems to be solved, motives, and feelings – accept all feelings and encourage empathy
      • Select books to read that have themes, motives, and problems to solve – discuss alternative outcomes, feelings.

      • Encourage abstract thinking:
      o ask why questions
      o ask for opinions
      o compare and contrast different points of view
      o reflect on feelings – come back to experiences again later
      o don’t ask questions you know the answer to
      o don’t tell child which dimensions to use
      o use visualization – “picture yourself”
      o avoid rote, fragmented, academic questions
      Be creative!!

      The whole point here is to encourage flexible thinking (i.e., shades of gray) and problem-solving. This is very difficult to accomplish if your child is obsessing about video games. With books, a whole world of imagination and visualization opens up. However, if the child is just reading to avoid social interactions and to escape into fantasy, then it becomes a problem. He may not appreciate it at first, but if you create a book club at home, he will eventually enjoy your interest in his books as well. Libraries also have teen book clubs where youth can discuss popular books such as “Twilight.” I am not sure how old your son is.

      In sum, I would not necessarily put a time limit on reading. I would, however, encourage that your son read in the presence of others whenever possible and not isolate himself while reading. Too much of anything is never a good idea, so remember moderation and encouragement of a variety of interests. If he is reading at the expense of other activities, then I would consider using a time limit similar to the one I recommend for screen time. However, if you follow some of the suggestions I have made his reading will naturally decrease because he will need to set aside time for discussion with you in addition to his reading time. I hope this is useful. Thanks for visiting my blog!

      Readers should note that the best source of information for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment is their psychologist, pediatrician, or other appropriately-trained and credentialed members of their healthcare team. For additional information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Bowers, please visit http://www.aacenter.org.

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