How to Quit Playing Video Games

Published by Internet Addiction Center on

When video games start to take over a child’s life it is time to intervene and create a path to restore normalcy in their life.  Parents play a critical role in designing and implementing controls to help regain normalcy.

To start this process, the child must first have the capacity to make the change, the desire to make the change and the ability to imagine what life will be like when they stop playing.  Sometimes, this discovery process may need to be uncovered slowly while working with a psychotherapist. A family must decide and be able to imagine a new healthy way to communicate and relate to one another.  Once decided, it will become clear how the current maladaptive behaviors disrupt the new desired way of communicating and interacting.

Creating a Written Statement

The written statement should be made with input from all family members.  What do family members want to see differently? How should the family talk to each other?  How should the housework be divided? When should homework be done? When and for how long should a screen of any kind be used?  

Make a list of the family values.  It is recommended that this list be printed on a large poster board and hung in a central meeting place in the home.  Some examples can include statements about: diet and exercise, sleep, work/recreation balance, aggression, communication, privacy, mealtimes, academics, spiritual values and time spent together.  

The next essential step is to develop a plan to measure, and enforce the plan.  What is the end game? First, develop an understanding of the severity of the issue.  You can measure the level of impairment with this brief quiz.   Is abstinence something that you think is indicated given the severity of the issue?  Abstinence may be recommended if the score on the video game addiction quiz is high or one of the following features is present:  aggression, lying, a comorbid psychiatric diagnosis such as conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder or very poor sleep habits.  Now it’s time to sketch out a daily routine.

The daily routine should include an hour-by-hour account of what the day should look like.  Include key events such as wake-up routine, time family members return home, homework time, free-time, participation in dinner, screen time, a time when devices will be shut off and bedtime.  

Next, pick behaviors that you want to see more often and behaviors that you want to see less often.  Chose categories such as “respect parents authority” and then include multiple examples of what constitutes a violation of this. Each violation carries a number value so that at the end of each reporting period they can be tallied.   Next, you need to define rewards for levels of compliance. There are multiple ways to do this, but, I believe that using only rewards at first typically is more effective. Like grandma used to say “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”.  This approach tends to work well.

The system, also known as a token economy system,  will need to be adjusted from time to time to keep the goals on track.  Initially, you are trying to get some momentum so the bar may be lower than the long term target.  If there is little traction with this approach, it may be time to employ a professional in the role of a coach to help refine the goals and fine tune things.