Ask the Experts

Is My Child a Minecraft Addict?

“Our 15-year-old son with ADHD lies to us to play Minecraft, and lets everything else fall by the wayside. Is he suffering from video game addiction?”

Our 15-year-old tells us he needs to get on the computer to do homework, but within 5 or 10 minutes he’s on Minecraft. He knows every trick in the book for breaking in to our phones, computer, and TV to play games. If he were balancing grades and outdoor time with gaming, we wouldn’t be so concerned but he’s earning Ds in most subjects at school. We have tried taking away all screens, signing agreements, seeing counselors, using tutors… The minute he earns back Minecraft, the obsession begins again.

It sounds as if your teenager could be displaying signs of obsessive behavior. In these circumstances, I suggest contacting a therapist who has some expertise in the subject, preferably in the new DSM-V diagnostic category of Internet Gaming Disorder.

It is true that much high school homework work requires a computer and Internet access, which opens up a world of distraction and temptation for ADHD students. I strongly suggest that you place your son’s computer in a public area temporarily, even though this may reduce his focus and concentration. He can regain his privacy rights by improving his grades and reducing his inappropriate behavior. Sometimes parents need to be totally in control of Internet access, keeping the router in their room and setting strict limits (via the provider so your son cannot change it) on cell phone capabilities. Setting limits on Minecraft are difficult, but not impossible.

I would not give up on your efforts to get him involved in other engaging activities beyond the computer. Consider what is developmentally appropriate and try to get him involved in these activities. If you are able to get him doing something – like an after-school sport or club activity – with his peers, he may begin to acquire a greater variety of interests.

Other parents of reticent teens encourage or require them to get some type of job. He could work to earn money to buy games, but working outside of the house would also provide him with another activity and engagement with new peers. It may also help him to become responsive to someone else’s expectations beyond those of his parents.

One last thought: Some kids need to make the same mistakes three or four times before learning a better way forward. Restricting access so he can earn it back may eventually work. If you go this route again, try and engage your son in a reflective discussion about what is happening and what will make everyone happy.