Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
Dealing With Teen Gaming Addiction

Mark J. Kline | 1 Aug 2011 21:00
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Let's assume in this case that those factors can be ruled out and reason has simply failed. What can parents do?

One option is to accept that you have little real control over what a young adult chooses to do with his time. He isn't doing anything illegal and he isn't really hurting anyone but himself, though parents' pain about such withdrawal and failure is often quite keen. There are lots of worse things kids can be doing these days than gaming. If you can accept this and back off, you are really leaving your son's destiny in his own hands. He might not graduate, he might not go to college, and it might take him years to realize the opportunities he is missing. I've seen parents choose this option, and it sometimes results in a "basement dweller" young adult who can't really can't function or leave home. Other parents are able to launch the young person, but the adjustment is marginal. I've seen some cases where the teenager gets a job, learns to take care of himself and ultimately realizes that they need to get their act together if they want to progress. Any of these outcomes requires tremendous parental tolerance and restraint. It is very difficult to stand by passively and watch someone you love struggle like this.

Another option is a more extreme "intervention." Some young people cannot control their self-destructive habits, whether it is gaming, drugs, alcohol, or something else. I have known families who literally removed their teen from home, placed them in an internet-free environment with lots of therapeutic support, and hoped this "drying out" would lead to some new developments. In a number of cases, this has worked. It usually requires a sustained removal (anyone can tolerate a week or two away from a habit), and the right environment with a helpful peer culture and adults who can encourage reflection and growth. I know this sounds extreme, but sometimes it can be life saving. I have not found these environments within the regular psychiatric care system. Many hospitals won't accept patients who aren't imminently dangerous, and insurance companies often push for very limited stays. It is not an option available to every family because it can be quite costly and also heart wrenching for parents.

You might ask if there is any middle ground. Intensive outpatient treatment can sometimes be helpful. When reason has failed, it's sometimes worth trying therapy and even medication. This works better if the teen recognizes there is a problem and is willing to work on it. Some young people are resistant to talking, and may refuse medication. Valuable time can be wasted trying to lead a horse to water that he or she will not drink.

I'm addressing this very serious problem from the point of view of what parents can do, and in a sense, it is not much different than many problematic habits teens can acquire. Gaming can be lots of fun. Often, parenting is less fun, but when you help someone you care about grow, it is very satisfying.

Some of you have noticed that this column is appearing more infrequently. I'm still very interested in answering your questions and writing about gaming, but have many other projects that require my attention. I welcome any inquiries and will continue to produce columns episodically as I can. I've enjoyed hearing from The Escapist readers and especially appreciate your interesting thoughts and comments about the questions I have addressed.

Dr. Mark Kline hates pruning, weeding, and power washing, but enjoys mowing the lawn. Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to askdrmark@escapistmag.com. Your identity will remain confidential.

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