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What are some methods to help a teen who openly admits that they may be addicted to online gaming and wants help?

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    What kind of online games are we talking? There's especially a difference between pc-type and phone-type games, and the approaches might differ. – Erik May 12 '15 at 18:01
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    Could you provide some more detail as well? How deep does the addiction run? Is it an all-night, every-night kind of thing? What aspects of the teenagers life are being affected by this? – Brian Robbins May 12 '15 at 18:43
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    To add to the other questions, is this online gaming a social activity for your child? – Egg May 12 '15 at 19:54
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    Addiction is a medical term and it has a medical treatment. Do you mean addiction? Because if you do I'll vote to close the question. Perhaps you mean "What are some methods to help reduce the amount of time a teen spends with online gaming?" You probably need to say how long the teen is spending online; how long you want them to spend online; whether it's affecting their day to day life; and things you've tried to help them. – DanBeale May 12 '15 at 20:23
  • Gaming addiction has been defined as a condition. webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/features/… – Brian Robbins May 12 '15 at 20:29
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The first thing is to find out why the child plays. As a pretty heavy gamer myself who has gone through a number of phases and reasons for getting lost in games, I know there can be many reasons why you get lost in a world of games.

Once you know, here's some advice for three different kinds of players that I've been in the past:

For the challenge

When in high school, I had a time where I gamed instead of making homework. For a major part, this was because I felt school wasn't interesting enough and I needed to focus on something harder. I played games that were challenging and competetive because I wasn't properly engaged with school because many of the tasks were either boring or simple.

If this is the situation, the best fix is to find a new outlet for challenge. Either find harder tasks for the child to do (ideally, in the same subject as his schoolwork) that let him learn at a pace that suites him better. A challenging piece of homework can be just as good as a challenging game, but the former might be harder to get your hands on. Alternatively, work with your child on some advanced topics when he completed homework and chores. From personal experience, if you have someone who can kickstart you in a new topic you can later get a lot of fulfillment out of it. But starting a topic on your own can be daunting, and if there is nobody you can meaningfully show your work to, hard to stay motivated for.

You could also check if there's any groups in the area that do out-of-school work that's a little more challenging. For example, taking up woodworking, programming, electronics, or something of the like. Schools can sometimes be lacking in terms of practical hands-on work and getting to do it after school sometimes makes it more bearable.

For the social aspects

Many games these days, especially the MMO games, have strong social aspects that draw players in to playing. This can be hard for a parent to spot, but sometimes when your child seems to be hacking up trolls on his computer, that's actually just a side to the real activity: chatting with people about the game. Especially people who have a hard time interacting with people face to face can often more easily make friends in an online environment where everyone is playing the same game. When I moved to university, an entirely new environment where I didn't know anyone, I fell hard for these kinds of games.

This isn't actually an all-bad situation as long as the contacts made are more meaningful than just playing a game together. I've made some pretty good friends over the years from playing them. Sometimes it helps to simply take some of these online friends and go do something else together (either virtually or for real, assuming these people live relatively nearby and you feel comfortable with the idea). This reduced the "need" to play the game in order to talk with your friends, and can help you let go of excessive gaming because you can just talk to your friends on Skype instead.

As a parent, if your child wants to meet up with some people he met in a game, do not immediately shoot this idea down. It is important to understand that the child considers these people his friends, even if he's never seen them before. If you shoot him down, it will feel like you disapprove of his choice of friends, not as if you are scared that something will happen. Instead, call the host and ask him about the meetup, and drop your child off personally slightly later than the starting time so you can see who is there. I've been to many such meetups and host them regularly. As long as it's a large(ish) group, in a known location and you have contact information, it'll be fine.

Alternatively, if the social aspect of gaming is important, consider looking for some non-video games that have very strong social aspects to them. Many cities have board-game or roleplaying-game meetups where people come together and play some games. They often have a very low bar of entry and many gamers can find some people who think alike in them. Encourage your child to go to them (maybe even look for some) and help him get there (take him by car if it's far) or organise them in your own home. Effectively consider it like taking up a sport for the child, except the training is mental instead of physical. But it's still a social activity they can do.

Or play games with him yourself. Pick up a boardgame that you both think is interesting and play it with him occasionally. If nothing else, it'll give you some quality time together to talk about any other issues you both might have.

For the blinking lights

This is probably the hardest one. And it might also be the most common one, especially these days. A lot of games are designed very specifically to draw people in and make them waste as much time as possible. (I should know, I used to make these). Most of what is on Facebook qualifies for this, as does anything that people refer to as "pay to win".

The primary defense against these that I've found is to figure out how they work from a psychological and business perspective. Look up articles on psychology of games and addiction and try to make your child understand exactly how the game is manipulating him into wasting time and money. These games generally offer nothing of value in return for your time, but they are relatively new in the market and are luring in a lot of people who aren't really familiar with games yet.

The primary thing I think to get rid of this kind of addiction is to understand Escalation of Commitment: the game tricks you into thinking that you have achieved something in the game and that it's worth spending more time and money to maintain it. This is what made people come back to Farmville time and time again; the game made them think their "farm" had value and needed to be maintained or they would "lose". It's full of psychological tricks that make you feel needed, but ultimately the game offers nothing of value.

Once both you and the child understand the idea of Escalation of Commitment, sit down for the game together and then just let the child delete the whole thing in one go. For these games, there is no value in "just play occasionally". Just make sure the child makes the choice and performs the action himself. It will sting a bit when you do it, but I've fallen for these games a few times when I was younger (although they weren't as manipulative as now) and I have never gone back to playing one after I consciously set myself down and simply deleted them. As soon as the game disappears, all of the feelings of "I need to maintain this" vanish with it. You'll feel an incredible sort of relief and you'll get back your free time. Hopefully to spend on more valuable things, which might be other games, because many of them do offer a lot of worthwhile things.

Closing words

I hope you can get some help from this. It's important to understand (as parent and child) that a gaming addiction can be a serious thing, but it is also important to understand that not all gaming addicts and not all games are alike.

Gaming plays a very important part in my life, I've been an addicted gamer who lost grades and lots of sleep over games, but I've also been a designer who made his living off of them, I've met my wife through games, I know many of my friends through games and it's one of my greatest creative outlets.

Try to tackle the things that are causing you to game too much, not the things that make you game at all. If you take away the symptoms, you still have the problem, and you'll either fall back to gaming or run into even bigger problems along the way. Like with many things; moderation is key.

  • Two other ideas: for boredom, for procrastination. – rlb.usa Jun 24 '15 at 17:18
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My eleven year old was getting to the point that I would consider him addicted. He was either on the computer playing an online game or he was watching TV, which I considered even worse. At least there's some brain activity required for online gaming.

If we asked him to do things (get ready for bed, bring your clothes down to be washed, come down to eat dinner) he was sullen and all his attention was on getting the least amount done he could before he was allowed to get back to his activity.

Finally I put my foot down. I told him that watching TV and playing online games was a privilege, not a right, and that he had been abusing it. The computer got password protected. The movies were put away on a shelf downstairs. From that moment on, he had to earn every hour of electronics. He got fifteen minutes a day for "routine" activities (getting up, brushing teeth, getting his own breakfast) - this was my freebie, kind of like a nicotine patch as he had been used to 2-4 hours a day. Everything else was earned.

My husband thought I was being too harsh but he quickly changed his tune :) From day one we both noticed a HUGE difference in my son's attitude. Gone was the sullen boy who considered everything but electronics an imposition on his play time. Now, he frequently asks me "what can I do to earn more time?" and he has a positive attitude as he is working because he knows he's going to be rewarded for it. He also has learned to ration his time better, and a lack of electronics has forced him to find other things to do (he has spend the last three weekends camping with his scout troop). I think he also enjoys his electronics time more because he feels he has earned it.

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The first step of getting out of any addiction is accepting the fact of being addicted. That's the hardest part. And it's behind him, apparently.

Second step: get clean. In this case - make him not play at all. For, say, a week. How to help to complete this phase?

  • provide alternative occupation - painting the fence, going to the movies, a family board game, a good book, anything to get his mind off gaming; this point is the most important! It's very hard to stay off computer when one is bored
  • ban access to the computer/console/phone. It can be done. If a computer is essential at school, buy one that won't handle any games.
  • get rid of the smartphone, get an old Nokia and remove all games on it
  • make consoles and any other computer gaming equipemnt unreachable. A good padlock on a closet may do the trick

After that - stay clean for a longer period of time. Learn to live without games. Stop missing them.

Possible and dangerous last step - reintroduce games. In reasonable amounts. Everything in life needs balance, and gaming is not inherently bad.

  • Yes. If you're an alcoholic, step 1 is to get the alcohol out of the house and stop going to bars. You're never going to sober up if you keep ten bottles of alcohol sitting on the kitchen counter where you can easily reach them in a moment of weakness. Lock up the game console or delete all the games from his computer or wherever he's playing. Then the two of you look for other things that he can do with his time. – Jay May 14 '15 at 13:30
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Ex game addict from age of 14 to 18.
Looking back at the reason why I played games so much is because I didn't enjoy life as much. Found life online to be more exciting than real life. Following reasons were to blame. Huge financial problems in family which caused both parents to work long hours and there was not enough money for me to be in various clubs such as karate and etc. Also financial stress was causing family problems, which also caused me to want to lose myself in online world. On top of that school was extremely easy and thus didn't offer a challenge.
So my reasons summed up are:

  • No money for extra sport activities
  • Family relations strain
  • School is too easy
  • Too much free time on my hands

Fixing it was very easy. I just went to university where I met great friends, was challenged enough with the workload from university that I didn't have much free time. And I received government student loan, so had money to go out sometimes. On top of that family problems got fixed too. Since then I haven't felt interest to touch games because tbh I do not even have time to do so with all the excitement in life.

This is what I would recommend.

Get your son excited about something. And make sure he follows through on that something and doesn't stop. Addiction is caused by too much free time and lack of excitement in life. Eliminate those and your son will be back to normal.

These are my two cents, on how I cured my addiction. Not sure if this works for everyone.

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If as you say, the teen (1) openly admits the problem, and (2) wants help, then you and the teen are already in a very good position to tackle the problem.

The best approach is complete cold turkey. And since he is willing to be helped (I assume he is male as most computer game addicts are), just sit down and talk to him and ask if he is willing to undergo the cold turkey treatment. If he agrees, discard whatever that is necessary for him to play the game (be it the Playstation or the XBox or uninstalling the game from your PC and preventing him from installing it).

My personal experience is that the weaning-off approach (e.g. let him play 1 hour a day) does not work. If it is well and truly an addiction, then that 1 hour a day will only make him crave it even more and the addiction will remain.

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It depends on whether it's a true addiction. If it's more like something he/she fills his time with because he/she doesn't have anything else to do, then the solution is really just to fill his/her time with other activities -- school activities, sports, clubs, youth groups, learning to play and instrument, etc.

If it's a true addiction, as in he/she literally becomes upset unless he/she "can get their fix", then most likely this is tied to some form of anxiety and/or depression, and you probably need the help of a therapist to discern what's the root issue and come up with a plan.

Be aware, this "quit cold turkey" advice above may not work, and may not even be helpful. It's best to let a therapist help sort through it if it's a true addiction.

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Lots of people have said that you should delete the game. This hasn't ever worked for me when I was suffering. What did work most recently is deleting the account, (it was an offline progress game), or having a friend change the password of your account to something you don't know. I did this three times and on two occasions I was able to recover the deleted account, third time is a charm.

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If the teen is asking for help, then you may want to consider

  • something like Qustodio, which allows the parent to define computer usage parameters for the teen's specific computer user profile. You can limit the amount of time per day, which sites and installed games can be played.

  • providing plenty of alternative activities -- in the beginning at least, try to spend as much time out of the house as possible.

  • asking the teen's pediatrician for guidance (and this might include referral to cognitive behavioral therapy).

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To reduce the online game addiction

Behavioral therapy can help a gamer move past the addiction. Therapy can help the compulsive person refocus thoughts and energy on different activities instead of gaming. If a gamer has been immersed in an extensive gaming community, spending time with other people who are also playing video games, it may be necessary to change the gamer’s physical environment for a period of time to institute new habits and thought processes. A residential treatment facility could provide this temporary environment to help a person move past video game compulsions.

Help the young person realise they have a problem by looking at how they feel about school, their friends, socialising face to face and participating in other activities.

Make sure the computer is not in their bedroom but a common area of the house like the lounge or rumpus room so that they cannot hide away and play all the time.

Computer games should be played in free time so help decide when free time is and what other commitments they might have (e.g. chores, homework, other activities).

Go to bed earlier and earlier. Often, someone addicted to computer games will stay up late. Get them to go to bed earlier each day, so instead of the early hours of the morning it is a reasonable time in the evening.

Replace computer time with more productive activities. They can exercise, read, place board games or do something else that stimulates and interests them.

Encourage them to go out with their friends more. Friends are important in life: they’re there to support you.

  • Buts its online.... Its Dota. No Cheats . Over 4000+ hours of gameplay and 120+ hours for the past week. I cant stop it. :/ :'( – Java_NewBie Jul 13 '15 at 20:58

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