Addicted to Computer Games!

Game-playing can boost coordination and computer literacy. Here's how to keep a good thing from turning destructive.

My Child Is Addicted to Computer Games! ADDitude Magazine

Do you find yourself monitoring how much time your child spends with his Gameboy?

Larry Silver, M.D.
   
 

Game Ratings

The Entertainment Software Rating Board rates each computer game:

EC: "approved for early childhood"

E10+: "approved for 10 and older"

M : "mature content" (violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language), for ages 17 and older with parents' consent.

For more on computer game "addiction," go to notmykid.org or see Kimberly S. Young's Caught in the Net (Wiley).

 
   

Children love computer games, and that's not always a bad thing. Whether played on a handheld device, a computer, or a television set, the games can provide hours of quiet fun. (That's one reason parents often rely on them to keep the peace on family vacations.) The games can boost computer skills and improve eye-hand coordination. One 2004 study showed that surgeons who play computer games commit fewer surgical errors than do their non-game-playing counterparts.

Computer games are emotionally "safe." When a child makes a mistake, no one else knows (unlike the public humiliation of, say, striking out in a real-life baseball game). And because each error made in a computer game helps the player learn the specific action needed to advance the next time, the player gets the satisfaction of steadily improving and ultimately winning.

Big downsides

But computer games carry some big downsides. Besides being very expensive, many popular games involve graphic sex and violence. Perhaps most worrisome, they can be extremely habit-forming. Any child can become "addicted" to computer games, but kids with AD/HD seem to be at particular risk. Many of them have poor social or athletic skills, and this doesn't matter in the world of computer games. Such games level the playing field for children with AD/HD. And kids bothered by distractibility in the real world are capable of intense focus (hyperfocus) while playing. The computer game "trance" is often so deep that the only way to get the player's attention is to shake her or "get in her face."

Do you find yourself monitoring how much time your child spends with his Gameboy? Do you constantly urge him to turn off the X Box? Does the desire to play computer games dominate her life? When you insist that the set be turned off, do you get an angry outburst? If so, the time has come to help this child or adolescent (and the whole family).

Finding alternatives

To make the games less seductive, find ways to minimize your child's downtime at home, especially those times when he is alone. Maybe your child would be interested in arts and crafts, theater, or movie-making. Maybe a social-skills group would be a good idea. Maybe he could join a youth group at your church or synagogue.

If she has trouble with a particular sport because of poor motor skills, or has difficulty understanding the rules or strategies, look for another sport that might be more accommodating - for example, martial arts, bowling, or swimming. Help your child find some activity that he likes and a place where he can do it.

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