Mitchell Rosen: How to curb video game addiction

Mitchell Rosen: How to curb video game addiction

When clinicians were putting together the DSM V, a medical textbook of psychiatric diagnoses, many doctors and therapist were advocating for a diagnosis of video game addiction.


Video game addiction is kind of like sex addiction; clinicians have seen it enough to know it exists but psychiatrists in charge of diagnosing did not see either as rising to the level of a disorder.


Video game addiction or, as it was proposed, Internet Gaming Disorder, is a serious and widespread phenomenon most family therapists have seen and attempted to treat. I say “attempted” because if the patient is a child or adolescent, treatment involves compliance and cooperation from the parents. Often, one or both parents are too afraid of their own child to turn off the Xbox or PlayStation.


Some of the times I treat this disorder there will be parent(s) who are fully onboard, will remove the gaming devices and turn off Internet connectivity. These behaviors along with individual and family counseling have brought some positive outcomes.


Unfortunately, by the time a child or teenager is brought to a therapist’s office for video game addiction, parents have usually tried and failed to stop the addiction on their own. Many decided it just wasn’t worth the tantrums, broken door locks and upheaval so attempts to stop gaming were abandoned.


My Temecula office is very close to a casino. I am well aware addictive behaviors are not the domain of the young. Middle-aged men and women have become hopelessly addicted to slot machines and video poker in much the same fashion as a teenager with “Minecraft” or “Fortnight.”


I am always saddened but not longer astounded when I hear curbing the use of video games resulted in kids, good kids, breaking into their parents’ rooms to get the Xbox or stealing credit card numbers to buy more games.


What I have observed is before a lock is picked or a credit card is stolen, there have been numerous attempts to slow down or extinguish video gaming in the home. When the child’s persistence wears out the parent’s resolve, there is a dramatic shift in the dynamics of the home. A shift that means it is the child not the parent with the ultimate authority. Few kids or adolescents have the maturity to handle unbridled power well.


What I have learned from families who have successfully halted video addiction is that the cure is systemic, meaning it involves the whole family. Mom, dad and siblings — everyone needs to be onboard with limiting not just the identified patient’s screen time but also their own as well.


Most Internet providers have computer logins that allow parents to turn the connection on and off. Sometimes, setting a timer or just turning it off is necessary. The complaining of “why should I have to have no Internet just because my family member can’t handle it?” is usually not compelling.


Most families benefit from less screen time and more face-to-face communication.


Mitchell Rosen is a licensed therapist with practices in Corona and Temecula.