Video Game Boundaries

Question

We have a 14-year-old son who loves to play video games.  He isn’t involved in any sports and spends hours in his room either alone or with a handful of friends playing these games.   Should we be concerned?  How can we help him develop some other interests?

Answer

You have good reasons to be concerned.  Video gaming is a billion dollar industry that is having a more significant impact on our children’s hearts, minds and moral development than most of us realize.  While video games aren’t intrinsically bad parents need to be aware of the potential dangers.

Studies have shown that playing video games too much can have a negative effect on academic achievement, inspire social isolation and lead to poor social skills, expose kids to social predators, lead to physical symptoms including seizures and tendonitis, be desensitizing and lead to more aggressive behavior and increased violence.

Many games have unbelievably graphic violence and I know of numerous kids from “good evangelical homes” who spend hours every week playing these kinds of games.  Here are a couple of the marketing slogans for some of these games: Kill your friends, guilt free; More fun than shooting your neighbor’s cat; As easy as killing babies with axes.  Be alert for any game has an “M” for mature rating.

It’s hard to overstate the addiction potential of video games.  One study suggested that 8.5% of American youths (8-18) are addicted to video games—in other words they have a pathological use that is having a significantly negative impact on their intellectual, emotional and social functioning—with some kids playing up to 7 hours a day.

What are some signs of addiction?  Kurt and Olivia Bruner, in their book Playstation Nation, provide a checklist of signs parents should watch for.  Does your child …

  • Play almost every day?
  • Play for extended periods (more than three or four hours at a time)?
  • Play for excitement?
  • Get restless and irritable if he or she can’t play?
  • Sacrifice social and sporting activities to play?
  • Play instead of doing homework?
  • Try in vain to limit playing time?
  • Seem to be losing interest in real-life activities

What can you do?  Become a detective and study your son.  Find out what games he is playing and play some of them with him.  Find out what he enjoys and finds fascinating about them.  Find new and creative ways to be with him.  When he does talk, what does he talk about?  What makes him laugh?  What helps him to relax?  What kinds of encouragement does he respond to?  What are some activities that he has enjoyed in the past that he might once again want to engage in?  Talk with the youth leaders at your church.

You’ve probably spent a lot of time praying for your son and for wisdom in raising him.  I’d encourage you to go one step further and enlist two or three other couples to daily pray for him and you can volunteer to pray for their kids on a daily basis.  Also talk with other parents about their child’s use of video games and how they have dealt with it.

Know that you are asking the right questions at the right time.  Know that you aren’t alone, that many are on the same road as you, and that there are things you can do that over time and with patience and prayer will make a difference in the life of your son.

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