My Son’s Story of Electronics Addiction and Recovery
“If your child were addicted to drugs or alcohol, would you let him have just a little bit?” It was this question from Matthew’s cognitive behavior therapist that started my head spinning. My child was addicted to video games, and I wasn’t doing enough to help him recover. That is where the honesty — and the detox — began. Here is how we went cold turkey.
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16 Comments: My Son’s Story of Electronics Addiction and Recovery
Thank you so much for this article. I am the mother of a 14-year-old boy who has ADHD and a strong genetic predisposition to addiction (he was adopted at birth). From the day we began parenting him, my husband and I have intentionally delayed, restricted, and limited his exposure to digital media. But at the age of 8, he was hospitalized for two weeks with a bone infection, and the paediatric nurses gave him an iPad full of games to keep him calm through the traumatic ordeal.
He has been fighting us tooth & nail over screens ever since, and we have reached the point where we are completely powerless to do anything about it. We’ve never given him a device, but other people have given him several over the years, and he has figured out how to over-ride any parental controls we try to put on them. We can no longer confiscate them without fear for our safety. The most we can do is block him from our home internet. He rarely goes to school anymore, and when he does, he spends most of the time gaming on the library computers, playing on his phone, or using the school wifi to download games & videos. Sports and friends—previously his main motivators—are barely of interest to him anymore, if at all. We are currently seeking treatment for him, but the reality is that, in a world with no escape from screens, how likely is it that treatment & recovery would last in the long-term?
Everything we read about this problem puts the responsibility for mitigating it squarely on the shoulders of parents. But we have done EVERYTHING that’s recommended, and then some. So now I am looking for systemic solutions. I believe now that technology companies need to be held legally responsible for the epidemic of digital addiction, especially among children & youth—maybe even laws prohibiting the marketing and sale of digital devices, games, and social media apps to kids and schools, just as there are laws prohibiting the marketing & sale of other addictive substances (and activities such as gambling) to minors.
Dr. Nikolas Kardaras is a clinical psychologist specializing in addictions, and he has been sounding the alarm about this for several years: http://www.drkardaras.com/
The state of California has recently introduced a bill that is just the tip of the iceberg on holding tech companies accountable:
I refuse to believe that we have no choice but to leave humanity’s future in the hands of technology companies who only care about turning a profit. This problem is real, and it is not going to be resolved by parents setting unsustainable limits on something that is intentionally designed to be addictive.
Cynthia, thank you so much for being so mindful and thoughtful to write this article and share your experiences with Matthew. I have noticed how withdrawn my son had become during the winter time by virtue of playing video games. While at first I was not alarmed because this was a way for him to interact with his friends, I started to notice how my 9 year old figure out ways to sneak in some extra playtime. He also had started to avoid anything that will take time away from his gaming and his attitude and demeanor had changed around us. While we had pause to evaluate his gaming reading your article, reinforced our views. My husband and I really took action and made a very conscious effort to break him away from his gaming. It has been close to a month now, and we can see a big change on his attitude, my son is back to his normal self playful, loving and engaged with the whole family. Our next effort will be to figure out if we can allow him to play again and see if he can now have a positive relationship with his video games and be his normal self. I wanted to let you know your article has reached us and made an impact thank you again for your courage to write.
Kudos to the author for writing this article. What she went through to help her young son take a digital detox took an incredible amount of energy and persistence. If you don’t have a child that loses himself in screens so much that it disrupts his life and his familiy’s life in extreme ways just to get off a screen then you don’t understand what it is like. Most kids now have an attachment to screens but she is speaking to a different level. I am surprised at the vitriol and defensive posts here- obviously she isn’t speaking to your situations. Comparing a reaction to getting your child to stop gaming vs. getting them to put a book down is a false equivalency. Additionally she is talking about a child, not an adult with years more emotional developement and who also didn’t have the kind of screen life we have now during their own development.
My son is now 15 (with ADHD) and we have had the same issues. His generation was caught in the first couple years of being middle school age with smart screens— and with very few ways to limit time (no Circle, no iPhone or other parental controls through the devices). We basically had to literally pull it from him, unplug it, consequences, rewards etc. But Iit has been an uphill battle (literally).He has struggled greatly academically and socially due partly to the hold screens have had over him. We are continuing to try and find solutions but it is much harder at 15 than at 9.
We also had about a 6 week detox at 11. It was great and he applied himself to becoming a very good skatebaorder. But it didn’t take long before we were having giant fights about limits again as soon as the detox was over. So I hate to say it most likely won’t just go away as he matures. Keep having the occasional detox and use those parental controls. I think learning screen use with the parental controls in place will help the younger kids a lot. Hopefully by the time they become young adults out efforts will pay off and they will have learned some self management. Good luck!
Thank you becksmac. I appreciate your support. It sounds like you understand exactly what I was saying. My friend reached out to me about her child failing out of college because of his gaming addiction. It is a very real problem. I know I will have more battles to face with Matthew as he gets older, but I realize I have the strength to help him during the next hurdle.
By writing this article, I meant to help parents, not offend. An addiction is an addiction. Denial is a terrible thing. I was not afraid to call it what it was with my son. I hope parents people understand that. Thank you or your positive feedback.
I applaud the parents of this article. The people who criticise do not have the problem. Lets give each other slack and encouage each other. I am a female adult and play games when i go to bed. Many times its dawn before i quit. My counselor is not helping me.
I’m not criticising because I don’t believe in video game addiction. I’m criticising because she’s conflating ordinary hyperfocus on an enjoyed hobby with addiction.
A fixation on a hobby isn’t addiction until it becomes problematic or harmful. Take your case- you start playing video games in bed, then don’t stop until dawn. That’s a problem. Though I do wonder if you have any of the other hallmark addiction signs (including withdrawal), because if not, you could possibly deal with this issue just using an oven timer or something.
Also, in the past (and sometimes recently, I’ll admit), I’ll lie down in bed and start reading. If I don’t get tired, I can go for hours and hours, and I HAVE sometimes read right through until dawn. Would you likewise call me addicted to reading? Or is your assertion if addiction based on the negative perception of video games in society? Please understand, if you actually DO suffer from video game addiction, I have no intention of demeaning your struggles. I have a father who struggles with gambling addiction, I know how hard these things are. But I think the author is making an insulting mountain out of an ordinary molehill, because she personally doesn’t like the molehill.
Finally, I DO have ADHD, despite what you suggested in your reply to me. So I’m qualified to talk.
Spaceboy99 Insulting mountain out of an ordinary molehill? Interesting perspective. I understand addiction and I was not trying to be offensive. Perspective taking is a quality people need to have in order to have empathy. In my home, his gaming addiction was taking over and I needed to help him. He is a better kid because of it. I know I have helped numerous families by telling my story. I don’t know why I offended you so. I respect your opinion, but I would not change a thing about my article. I am not anti-video games. I am anti-video game addiction. My daughters played video games for years and I never had an issue with it. My son however, needed an intervention and I’m so grateful for people who are empathetic and supportive of our journey.
I think it’s important that this perspective is shared, at the very least because there are so many other parents out there struggling with the same things. I feel terrible about the backlash that I inevitably think the author will receive, because she’s put herself in a vulnerable position regarding a complicated issue.
My concern is framing this type of problem as an “addiction” to a child. Even if it is, I fear the damage of the label in place of addressing the behavior itself, which is absolutely something that can and will shift to another obsession if it isn’t addressed. I’m an adult with ADHD and both of my children also have ADHD, and we all have to practice checking ourselves and our priorities on a regular basis. Recently my daughter had to establish limits for herself after she became old enough to set up her own Pinterest account! There are certain days of the week when I cannot even touch a book because I know I will ignore any alarms or limits I set for myself and I have too much to do. I do think it is incredibly important to address the fact that overuse of video games and electronics hinders our ability to deal with relationships and problems, practice waiting and patience, and avoid a lot. But so do a lot of things – that’s part of ADHD. It’s even more important that those of us with ADHD PRACTICE setting our own limits, turning off devices, and other self regulation strategies over and over again, even more than our non-ADHD peers, because it’s so much harder for us, and that we have help doing it.
Overstimulation from video games is very real, but can also be related to sensory issues, which coexist in many children with ADHD and are still poorly understood. One of the best ways to manage this with my son is to give him his earned electronic time early enough In the afternoon that he can get outside and engage in some kind of physical activity afterwards.
I’m so glad this conversation has been started, I truly hope the author doesn’t feel attacked, I just think this is a bigger conversation. My son genuinely struggles with the same issues, including connecting to people and many others described in the article, but electronics are not like drugs or alcohol – they are not something he can cut out of his life. Electronics are a necessary tool he will need to use in school and can be an excellent resource to help in his ADHD symptoms to make lists, set reminders, etc. My own son’s physical disabilities mean his electronic device is part of his IEP! It is an incredible amount of work on a daily basis, and it would be a million times easier ifor just get rid of electronics. But if we don’t practice these thing every single day now when we have so much more influence, what will happen when he’s 16, or worse, when he’s a freshman in college?
evae1izabeth I appreciate your insight. Everyone will read this article with different lenses and their perspectives, be it positive or negative. My fear is when he gets older and can’t control himself. I have all the say now, but eventually, I won’t.
I know this article has helped many people open their eyes to a growing problem, and for that I am grateful for writing it. I know I “offended” people by calling it an addiction, but it is what it is.
I hope to be able to teach him how to manage his electronics in a healthy way.
Wow. You can turn anything into an addiction these days. Replace “video games” with “teddy bear” and suddenly you’ve got a teddy bear addiction. Kid sneaks his teddy bear at night. Loses track of time while playing with his teddy bear. Did you ever think that perhaps that’s just adhd and it doesn’t matter what the interest is? When I was a kid it was art (still is) and music. I’ve spend countless hours creating. When I was away from it, it was all I could think about. I could’nt wait to wake up in the morning to make music or art. I had a hard time going to sleep and getting my brain to turn off because I had (still have) adhd. Not because of an art/music addiction. You probably don’t play games with your kid. You’re probably the kind of family with one gaming console that you look at like it’s some kind of alien thing. The problem isn’t your kid or video games, it’s your perspective. We’re a 4 console family. We game together, we game apart. We set boundaries, though. No electronics at the table, tablets go on the charger in the living room before bed. Do my kids wake up and go straight to gaming, yeah, sometimes. But not always. Right now my adhd daughter is reading a book (swap video game for book and it looks like your “addiction”) while my neurotypical son aggregates her to go play outside.
I am an avid reader and my son often tells me that I’m addicted to books. lol, I wish I had the time! A hobby, however healthy it is, becomes a problem if it is all consuming. Working out for 9 hrs a day, not healthy. Eating salad for 9 hrs a day, not healthy. Reading a book for 9 hrs a day, not healthy. Playing electronics for 9 hrs a day, not healthy.
You can criticize my article and say I over-reacted by calling his obsession and addiction, but I stand behind it 100%.
My brother is an artist, so I appreciate your story of how creative you were as a kid. I am not debating the difficulties a person with ADHD face. I simply stated the difficulties a child with a ADHD faces with video game addiction.
Please don’t assume what my family life is like. Regardless of how many consoles we have, I think that comment was irrelevant and rude.
If you read the entire article, I say I want my child to have a HEALTHY relationship with electronics.
I can’t adequately describe just how very offensive I find this article.
The signs of Video Game Addiction that you refer to-
1. Loses track of time when on electronics; becomes agitated when interrupted;
2. Prefers to spend time using electronics rather than playing;
3. Does not follow time limits; loss of interest in other activities;
4. Seems restless when not using a device and preoccupied with getting back on;
5. Avoids homework and chores because of spending too much time with electronics;
6. Sneaks a device when no one is around and lies about it.
These are ALL common symptoms of ADHD!
1. Hyperfocus on things of interest
2. Hyperfocus on things of interest, avoidance of less stimulating/boring activities
3. Hyperfocus on things of interest, avoidance of less stimulating/boring activities
4. Avoidance of less stimulating/boring activities
5. Hyperfocus on things of interest, avoidance of less stimulating/boring activities
6. Maladaptive coping strategies
People with ADHD have addictive personalities- true. Electronic devices (especially video games and social media) are addictive- true. But simply going by the list of addiction symptoms above, ADHD people are addicted to literally anything they find interesting. I am, therefore, addicted to books, learning new things, axe-throwing, video games, listening to music, spending time with my significant other, going to work, and any other number of hobbies/activities that I enjoy doing.
Your child may have been presenting addictive behaviours, MAY have been, but your ‘overdose during the superbowl’ hypothesis is both laughable and, again, offensive. I, personally, have spent entire days, and even weeks, doing mostly nothing but playing video games. Currently, I’m in a dry spell- they’re just not as interesting to me at the moment as they have been in the past. This has been going on for about two months. I’ve done precisely the same thing with books in the past- read incessantly for days/weeks, then not touched one for months.
Use of electronics is not actually DANGEROUS for a child unless:
a) no limits or restrictions are placed on their usage
b) the child is not taught to prioritise other daily living activities over electronic usage
c) the child begins to substitute solitary electronic usage over shared activities with others (bear in mind that you can play video games with your friends nowadays, even when you’re in different houses).
It’s natural for people with ADHD to lose track of time, to get agitated when interrupted doing something they enjoy, to not want to obey time limits, lose interest in things other than their passion of the day, get restless when doing things that do not stimulate them sufficiently, avoid homework to do things they enjoy, and to sneakily do more of what they enjoy when they think they can get away with it. This is par for the course with ADHD!
To actually compare a 9-year old who simply enjoys a hobby to a substance abuse addict is offensive on so very, very many levels, even if the child thinks he’s addicted himself. If this same child felt the same way about books, or martial arts, or some other sport, you would likely not bat an eye. The only issue here is your own in-built prejudice towards video games and electronic forms of entertainment.
Don’t get me wrong here- I think it’s wonderful that you’ve managed to get your son to engage more with the family, conversing, playing communal games, and spending more time together and around each other- these are vital things for any child, especially one with ADHD (I wish I’d had a mother who wanted to spend time with me), and if his gaming was becoming an issue in the home, it’s great that it got resolved. But the tone of this article is needlessly inflammatory and disparaging, and offends me on many multiple levels. Your son is not a recovering addict, your son is a person who got very engaged with something you disapprove of. He picked up on your disapproval, went with you to an event where the activity was disparaged by a figure of apparent authority, internalised this negativity, and rejected the activity for fear of losing your approval.
He’s an addict once he turns into a teenager/adult who will not leave the house, will not wash, will not study, will not eat, drink, or socialise, and becomes AGGRESSIVE when limits are imposed. It’s awesome that you started with limits early- I’m going to do the same thing with my own kids, because that’s when they build their relationships with different things- but he is not an addict. Addictive behaviours are ones that manifest as a result of a harmful relationship with a thing. Someone who enjoys going out and drinking and gets annoyed when they can’t go out is not an alcoholic, someone who has an unhealthy relationship with or attachment to alcohol is an addict. Someone who enjoys playing video games and does not want to be interrupted or stop playing is not an addict, someone who lets games rule their lives is an addict.
To sum up: The tone of this article is offensive. The assertion that a long stint of electronic usage can cause addiction is offensive. To compare ordinary ADHD symptoms when stimulating activities are removed to substance addiction is offensive. As someone with ADHD, for whom video games were one of the only escapes I had from an extremely horrible life, to be called an addict over them (however indirectly) is offensive.
Well done on getting your son to engage. Don’t look at his hobbies as something dirty.
First and foremost, Thank you for reading my article, and I apologize if I offended you. The point of this article was to bring awareness to a real addiction that our children face. Gaming disorder is very real. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified gaming disorder in their International Classification of Diseases. Having a video game addiction/gaming disorder is very real. Students are failing out of school because of their video game addiction. Dozens of families have reached out to me in support of my article because it opened their eyes and they are now setting strict limits. This was not solely for children with ADHD, but our ADHD children have an even harder struggle because of the challenges they face in regards to hyper-focusing on things they prefer.
My son admitting that he was addicted to video games was very telling and I would not change a thing. An addiction is an addiction. Call it what you want, but the bottom line is, doing anything that limits you from performing functionally on a daily basis is a problem.
I’m so glad I took action and I’m so happy that I have helped other families.
Space boy 99. When it involves ADHD if you dont have the problem dont criticise. I am a female adult and am also addicted to video games. I go to bed at night and let time fly by. Many times its dawn before i quit. I am in counseling but she is not helping. U need help.
To add Spaceboy99, this is an article, not a book. The mention of the superbowl behavior was the turning point, not his only down point. For the sake of time, I did not dive into other moments prior.
Hi Kathi47. I appreciate your honesty. A gaming disorder/ video addiction is very real. People who criticize are not ready to admit it to themselves. I know a student who failed out of college because he could not put the controllers down. This is very real. If I didn’t intervene, that student could be my son one day.
I really hope you get the help you need. Please contact the presenter I mentioned in the article. He works with people trying to recover from video game addiction. Good luck! I wish you nothing but the best!