How do I motivate my teenage video game addict?

Dear Alice,

How do I motivate my son who is addicted to video games to go above and beyond homework and find interest in extracurricular activities?

~ Concerned Parent of 8th Grader

Dear Concerned Parent,

This is a great question and a very common struggle for many families.

As a parent myself, I’ve researched a lot about parenting and worked with a parenting coach. This is what I’ve learned:

1.) Be curious. Ask your son why he is playing video games.

Is he bored? (With school? With life?) Is he trapped at home with nothing else to do besides video games? Does he play to spend time with his friends? Is he stressed / overwhelmed with school or other responsibilities and need an escape?

If you understand the root cause of why he is playing video games, that information will help you both come up with a solution.

2.) Empathize: After he tells you why he plays, empathize with his reasons, so he feels loved and accepted. That will encourage him to be more open to listening to you, since we all want to be make those we love happy.

2.) Create Buy In: Have a discussion with your son about your concerns about video games. Are you worried because studies show that video games can cause loneliness, stress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem? If so, tell him. Ask him what he thinks about those risks.

If he’s wants to change, ask him for ideas on what limits he can impose on himself, and ideas on how he can spend his time. An 8th grader is definitely old enough to have this type of discussion and give input on activities that can substitute for video games.

3.) Limit: If your son doesn’t have many ideas about how to contain his video games or is uncooperative, set limits on the amount of video games he plays and then remove devices when he’s reached those limits. Take away the privilege of video games until after your goals are reached.

4.) Reward: Explain to your son the importance of having interests outside of school. Extracurriculars are a great way to build friendships and improve mental health. They can also teach social skills, and studies show that EQ (Emotional Intelligence) is a more important determinant of “success” than IQ.

With your son, brainstorm extracurriculars that excite him. And, encourage him to invite friends to join along.

If your son still doesn’t want to participate in extracurriculars, you can both generate a list of rewards (e.g. screen time, a trip to the movies with friends, etc.) for participating in outside activities.

If he truly doesn’t want to participate in any extracurriculars, you can always completely remove the video games, forcing him to do something else, anything else, with his time.

For extreme cases of video game addiction, you can always consult his pediatrician for more resources..

———

Let me close with a story: one my students used to stay up all night playing video games with friends to escape the stresses and responsibilities of life. Prior to high school he was a straight A student, but unfortunately, the video games caused his grades to drop in 9th and 10th grade.

On his own, my student came to the realization that he didn’t want to squander his opportunities. So, he decided to go into a frenzy of studying. He was able to bring up his grades, going from a B student back to an A student. And he ended up getting a composite score of 1500 on his SATs. He was the only person who could make this decision and do the work.

Continue to build a strong relationship with your son, explaining the thought process behind your actions and decisions, so he can learn how to make healthy decisions after he’s left home.

Best wishes and keep me posted,

Alice