I want to talk about a problem that a lot of parents have. In a recent workshop, it took about 2 minutes for a group of strangers to find common ground: Screen addiction, specifically video games, that are ruining their sons. As one father put it, video games are this generation’s Vietnam.
It may seem like an exaggeration, but this was his point: every decade has an issue that potentially harms the futures of those who are coming of age. For this father’s generation, it was Vietnam. For his son, it is video games and screen addiction. For parents living with a screen-addicted teen, the comparison is real. Life at home becomes a war zone, filled with the same daily battle. These parents feel out of control, and they worry about their sons’ futures.
For the parents of older boys, it felt like it was too late. They regretted that they had let this happen. After all, they gave them the games. Though they battled the whole way through, these parents didn’t stick to the limits they set. Now that their sons were about to graduate high school and they worried about their futures. How would they create lives if they had no self control?
As they listened to their peers, something clicked for the parents of younger boys. The stories of teens who are a little older than their own sons made it clear that it wasn’t going to get better unless something changed at home. It was on the parents to make these changes while they still had the chance.
Setting screen boundaries is hard to do. But without them, these boys will choose the online realm. Real life is far less compelling than their game lives. That’s why it’s easy for them to spend 5-7 hours a day in game world.
The difference between playing video-games and screen addiction
One recent study on screen addiction speaks to the importance of how the screens are being used, rather than how long kids are on them. This means that we have to watch for signs beyond just the clock. (But the clock is also telling, in my opinion. We’ll get to that in a minute.)
According to the study, “Some of the warning signs include: screen time interferes with daily activities, causes conflict for the child or in the family, or is the only activity that brings the child joy. Kids who use media in unhealthy ways have problems with relationships, conduct and other emotional symptoms.” (The study didn’t examine whether the emotional and behavior problems or the media addiction came first.)
What this suggests is that when screen addiction is the answer to everything–boredom, loneliness, free time, social isolation, anxiety–there is a problem. A person doesn’t get to learn to cope with the discomfort of being human if they have something that will take that discomfort away.
He’s a good boy otherwise, so the games aren’t a problem
At this same workshop, one mom told me that this is the feedback she received from her son’s therapist. Since her son is basically a good boy otherwise, the fact that he plays games for 5-7 hours a a day isn’t a problem to tackle right now.
I respectfully disagree. I asked her if he has anxiety, and yes, he does. What happens during those 7 hours is that he doesn’t have to feel the discomfort of anxiety. It makes sense that he would want to play! However, this 15 year old boy isn’t learning any other coping mechanisms for weathering life. His only tool is escapism.
Being a parent in the 21st century means something totally different than it did when we were kids. Our parents were faced with the threat of actual war, the kind that can kill or permanently damage one’s psyche. However, in the digital age, the threat to our kids’ mental health is real. When screens are the answer to bad days, test anxiety, and boredom, teens get no practice tolerating the discomfort that is life.
If this all sounds too familiar, please take a minute to answer some questions here. If you answer “True” to 3 or more of the first 6 questions, it might be time to consider other options. (Aside from pulling the thing out of the wall, a popular choice for those who’ve had enough!)
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