Gaming: Hobby or Addiction?

Gaming: Hobby or Addiction?Do you worry that your child who loves gaming more than anything else has an addiction?

If so, chances are you panic and fear a future for your child that is not pretty. In that emotional state you react in anger and wield threatening consequences when your child resists and get into ugly power struggles that create a wider and wider gulf between you. You feel hopeless and your child grabs for every screen second he can. “Consequences” do nothing.

There is a big difference between a hobby gamer and an addicted gamer — and you need to know the difference.

Gaming is a thrill for many kids. It’s an arena where success and feeling in charge are more easily achieved for children who don’t find it in school or social relationships. It’s easy to connect with others through a game, and mastery is euphoric. It’s the mastery part that can be addictive, especially for the child who finds it nowhere else.

When gaming is a hobby:

I am a big proponent of trust — allowing your child to self-regulate , which he can do best when he knows he is trusted, when you talk about time spent on devices and set limits that you both agree are reasonable. Nagging, threatening, and taking away privileges will lead your child to hoard game time and get sneakier and more divisive with his screentime.

Think about it. Whether a hobby or addiction, how do you think your child feels when you criticize and punish what she loves so much? She will learn quickly that you don’t understand and connection — and with it, any hope of influence — is lost.

Internet games, youtube, facebook, snapchat are scary for parents and can be a panacea for kids. Finding connection with your child in this area is tough but essential to maintain. When your child thinks you understand how fun it is, how much he would rather game than do almost anything else, and even let’s you play with him, then you have a launching pad to discuss what feels right for both of you.

  • Make agreements that are reevaluated regularly.
  • Play games with your child.
  • Do not use consequences to force turning off devices, unless they are logical and your child has had part in agreeing to the consequence.
  • Understand that just “going outside” is not enough motivation. Because mastery is a critical component of gaming, decide with your child another skill he can get involved with that has that essential element.

When gaming turns to an addiction:

Cam Adair, founder of is an ex-gaming addict who once fit your worse nightmare of your gamer. His amazing story is here. He is now passionate about helping gaming addicts quit. He says the most important things for parents to understand is:

  • Gaming offers an escape from an otherwise unexciting life.
  • Video games are a challenge than bring with it extreme motivation even when you see that motivation nowhere else in your child’s life.
  • They provide a source for constant measurable growth.
  • All good games are social. No need to get together with friends. Non-multiplayer games are fun but for only a limited time.

The American Psychiatric Association has proposed criteria in the DSM-5 for Internet Gaming Disorder and suggest that a combination of five or more of those listed indicate a disorder.

So what does this mean for you?

  • If your gaming addict is to stop, he needs to replace his gaming occupation with another activity he is passionate about — one that he can slowly but consistently master.
  • You must understand that gaming is not the pastime of a lazy kid who cares nothing about anyone but himself. When you get the mindset of your gamer, you can find understanding and compassion — the absolutes that constitute connection, which are essential for your support, help, and influence.
  • Give your gamer more control over other areas of his life. When the “being in charge” thrill of gaming gives him a needed sense of power, it means he may be feeling powerless in most areas of his life.
  • Your child may hate the addiction as much as you do but he doesn’t know it or know what to do about it. It gets harder and harder to stop and go back to normal life.
  • Most important is that he needs your understanding and your help, not your criticism and anger.
  • Your gamer needs the motivation and the commitment to quit. Cam offers addicted gamers, who are committed to quitting, the resources to learn how and the stories of gamers who have quit. Watch this youtube video with a powerful story.
  • Cam’s mom wants parents to keep devices away from young children and never uses screens as a way to keep your child occupied. And by the way, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates never let their kids on devices for years.

If you’re worried your child is addicted but she doesn’t fit the proposed criteria, chances are it’s not an addiction but a highly desired hobby. We tend to fear the worst. When we are in panic mode, we miss the opportunity in front of us. Gaming addictions don’t tend to take over until between 12 and 17, so don’t react to your younger child as if he is addicted. Go for connection, communication, and having fun times together so it doesn’t turn into an addiction.

Here is an article citing some research to quell most of our fears — although Cam’s work certainly indicates that addiction is very real. It’s such new territory we don’t have enough resources to fall back on to learn from.

Let us know your stories and struggles. Share your experience in your comments below.