Only way to break a gam­ing habit is cold turkey

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - JOHN ROSEMOND

Have you ever heard of an ad­dict who was cured of his or her ad­dic­tion be­cause some­one lim­ited, but did not elim­i­nate, their ac­cess to the sub­stance or be­hav­ior? No, you have not. Is an ad­dic­tion to gam­bling less harm­ful if the ad­dict is only al­lowed to gam­ble five hours a week? No, it is not. The propo­si­tion is ab­surd.

Be­fore I con­tinue, a di­gres­sion: I am al­lowed, by law, to call my­self a psy­chol­o­gist, there­fore, I am a psy­chol­o­gist. How­ever, I am ever-in­creas­ingly aware that I do not have much in com­mon with most peo­ple in my nom­i­nal pro­fes­sion. In this re­gard, I am of the ex­pe­ri­enced opinion (38 years) that clin­i­cal psy­chol­ogy is more ide­ol­ogy than sci­ence, more fad-driven than fact-driven, and that the facts are not im­pres­sive. Do sev­eral years of grad­u­ate school make one a bet­ter ad­vice-giver? Is any form of psy­cho­log­i­cal ther­apy re­li­ably ef­fec­tive? These ques­tions, and many more, re­main unan­swered to a sat­is­fy­ing de­gree.

My di­gres­sion un­der­scores a story re­cently passed along to me by a highly re­li­able wit­ness. A psy­chol­o­gist, speak­ing to a group of North Carolina par­ents, rec­om­mended against tak­ing video game con­trollers away from pre-teen and teen boys who are ob­vi­ously ob­sessed with video games for the very rea­son that they are ob­sessed. To be clear: Be­cause play­ing video games is, ac­cord­ing to said psy­chol­o­gist, sup­pos­edly harm­less and “so very im­por­tant” to these boys and gam­ing is their main so­cial ac­tiv­ity to boot, the con­trollers should not be taken away. Again, the propo­si­tion is ab­surd.

In the early 1980s, I pub­licly as­serted (in this col­umn) on the ba­sis of ob­ser­va­tion alone that video games were ad­dic­tive. I was gen­er­ally dis­missed, even ridiculed. The ridicule, by the way, came pri­mar­ily from other psy­chol­o­gists. A grow­ing body of research now con­firms my the­ory. Over the years, hun­dreds of par­ents have sought my ad­vice con­cern­ing teenage boys who want to do noth­ing but play video games. Their grades have plum­meted, their per­sonal hy­giene has col­lapsed, they are sullen and do not want to par­tic­i­pate in fam­ily ac­tiv­i­ties, they get up in the mid­dle of the night to “game,” and they be­come threat­en­ing to­ward par­ents who even sug­gests that enough is enough.

My ad­vice is al­ways the same: While the boy is in school, con­fis­cate the con­troller, smash it and toss the pieces in a dump­ster lo­cated at least 10 miles from home — and do not ever, un­der any cir­cum­stances, al­low one of these ne­far­i­ous de­vices back in said house­hold. With­out ex­cep­tion, the child has ei­ther gone stark-rav­ing in­sane or he locks him­self in his room and won’t come out, some­times for days, in ei­ther event, prov­ing that he is in­deed ad­dicted.

It gen­er­ally has taken sev­eral weeks for with­drawal to run its de­monic course, after which the child be­gins to act like a child again. One teen boy, upon dis­cov­er­ing that his con­troller was gone, de­stroyed his room and would not speak to or in­ter­act with fam­ily for two weeks. Fi­nally, he thanked his par­ents, telling them that he felt much, much bet­ter and was now aware of the dam­age he’d been do­ing to him­self. I’ve heard many sim­i­lar sto­ries of re­cov­ery.

Video games are do­ing many chil­dren great harm. The many chil­dren in ques­tion con­sti­tute a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of boys in the upand-com­ing gen­er­a­tion. For these boys to be­come au­then­tic men, they need to be res­cued. They are not go­ing to res­cue them­selves. John Rosemond is a fam­ily psy­chol­o­gist and the au­thor of sev­eral books on rear­ing chil­dren. Write to him at The Lead­er­ship Par­ent­ing In­sti­tute, 1391-A E. Gar­ri­son Blvd., Gas­to­nia, N.C. 28054; or see his web­site at

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