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MY CHILD IS AD­DICTED TO VIDEO GAMES

Q My son is 13 and does very well in school, but I’m wor­ried that he is be­com­ing sep­a­rated from the world so­cially be­cause of the video games he plays con­stantly. From the mo­ment he gets home from school, he is on his tablet. If I try to take it away, he throws a tantrum. I want him to start in­ter­act­ing with other kids and en­joy­ing his real life.

non-gamers, video games can seem some­thing of an enigma; why would any­body ac­tively choose to spend their time seem­ingly ac­com­plish­ing noth­ing within the con­fines of a vir­tual world rather than the real one? I think the an­swer lies more in look­ing at what young peo­ple do en­joy about the games they play and less about mak­ing as­sump­tions that ev­ery­thing to do with games is neg­a­tive.

Gam­ing ad­dic­tion is about the way these games in­sid­i­ously creep into ev­ery as­pect of your child’s life, be­cause of the na­ture of the way chal­lenges are built into them.

In fact, there is a great deal of ev­i­dence to sug­gest that video games, like other vis­ual medi­ums, can have pos­i­tive ef­fects on your son’s men­tal de­vel­op­ment – en­cour­ag­ing prob­lem-solv­ing skills, and al­low­ing him to hone his re­ac­tions and men­tal agility. The caveat to this is that they are best en­joyed in mod­er­a­tion and that’s where you come in.

The ad­dic­tive qual­i­ties in video games come from three core el­e­ments of the ex­pe­ri­ence: in­ter­ac­tiv­ity, in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion and rep­e­ti­tion. All of these things stim­u­late the brain, and give the player a sense of ac­com­plish­ment.

Your son will, no doubt, be get­ting sat­is­fac­tion from play­ing these video games, but clearly his use of them has be­come com­pletely out of bal­ance, and it’s time to take ac­tion and try to wean him off them. Most video game pro­duc­ers rec­om­mend that play­ers en­joy their games for no more than an hour at a time, and that they take reg­u­lar breaks, about ev­ery 20 min­utes.

As you rightly point out, the fact that he is spend­ing so much time in this vir­tual world means he has very lit­tle time for so­cial in­ter­ac­tion with his peers, which is so im­por­tant at his age. Added to which, the phys­i­cal ef­fects of sit­ting for pro­longed pe­ri­ods mean that he’s miss­ing out on sports and this could have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on his health and well-be­ing. We can see this in his emo­tional re­sponses to be­ing asked to stop play­ing.

First, fa­mil­iarise your­self with which games he’s play­ing, and why you think he en­joys them. Knowl­edge is key to help com­bat this is­sue – while the ma­jor­ity of games are cre­ated purely for the end-user’s en­joy­ment, some are even specif­i­cally de­signed to en­snare play­ers to squeeze more money out of them. But with the pro­lif­er­a­tion of new tech­nolo­gies, in par­tic­u­lar smart­phones and tablets, new types of video games are now at equal lev­els of ad­dic­tive­ness.

These new, so-called ‘free to play’ games have been con­tro­ver­sial from the out­set, be­cause they of­ten pre­sent the player with nigh-im­pos­si­ble tasks and thus of­fer the op­tion to by­pass these with ‘in-app pur­chases’, which can oc­ca­sion­ally trick cer­tain chil­dren into hand­ing over their par­ent’s credit card!

What­ever types of games he is play­ing, it is im­per­a­tive that

There is a great deal of EV­I­DENCE to sug­gest that VIDEO GAMES can have POS­I­TIVE ef­fects on chil­dren’s MEN­TAL DE­VEL­OP­MENT

you know ex­actly the type of game he is ob­sessed with.

Now is the time to start be­ing firm but fair with your son.

At 13, he is still a child, and must re­spect the bound­aries you set. You need to take time to talk to him on his level. With­out be­ing con­fronta­tional, tell him your con­cerns. Ex­plain the im­por­tance of mod­er­a­tion, and gen­tly break the news that you’re go­ing to curb the use of his gam­ing de­vices.

I sug­gest you limit his gam­ing to no more than an hour and a RUS­SELL HEM­MINGS half per week­day, with an ex­tra hour on week­ends. If he cries at this news, or throws a tantrum, you must stand your ground.

Re­mem­ber, tantrums are of­ten em­ployed by chil­dren to try to guilt their par­ents into giv­ing into their de­mands.

But re­mem­ber that lim­it­ing his gam­ing time will have pos­i­tive ef­fects.

Ir­re­spec­tive of the re­sponse he gives you, en­gage him in al­ter­na­tive ac­tiv­i­ties and hob­bies he can en­joy, per­haps even with the rest of the fam­ily.

is a life coach, and clin­i­cal and cog­ni­tive be­havioural hyp­nother­a­pist

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