Q. My son, who is fourteen, spends several hours a day playing video games alone in his room. His older sister is much more social and active in school. I have asked my son to stop and he tells me that most of his friends get the same amount of time for playing video games. His grades are not good and he seems unmotivated to do much about it. I have restricted his use of technology, but he seems to find other ways to get it. It looks to me like he can’t function without these games. I wonder what is going on with him and how can I help him focus on other things for recreation?
A.It’s good that you are raising this question and want to be proactive about your son’s usage of video games. Various psychologists are looking at this current phenomenon and some are stating that there are children who are addicted to video games. Although this is controversial, I know of cases where children display similar traits of addiction to technology, as they do to drugs and alcohol—using these products to numb feelings, create certain states of mind, not deal with the pressures of school work, higher acceptance of violence, cope with uncomfortable social situations, family problems or with life, loneliness, criticism and other challenges. You want to first consider what your son is dealing with in his life that might be overwhelming for him? Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and anxiety tend to be more vulnerable to using video games to cope.
If your son struggles with trusting you, or other parental figures in his life, you may need to focus more on why that might be. Reaching out to another and opening one’s feelings, concerns and needs is one of the most important interventions to dealing with stress and building support and therefore confidence, optimism and resourcefulness.
Attaching positively to even one human being who cares, and who can offer ideas and hope, can bring a child back into the folds of connection and trust. Additionally, getting him connected to friends that he can do other things with, especially sports, crafts, science projects or other outdoor activities would be greatly helpful to him. This gets him socializing, involved in activities that exercise his motors skills, which also stimulate his brain and help with depression.
Now is a very good time for you to respond and help him add other activities to his life. If he is struggling with school work, you want to talk with him first and see why that is so? Talking with his teachers will give you some good information. School psychologists are also available to give you deeper insight and resources. If he truly needs help with a particular subject, think about a tutor who can work with him individually.
If his issues are deeper, then he may need psychotherapeutic help to get through some personal struggles.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com