Why Won't My Child Stop Playing Video Games?

It's not difficult to understand the appeal of video games. First of all, there's the power. Most children and teens do not feel they have much control over their world. They are generally told what to wear and eat, when to go to sleep and wake up, how to spend most of their day (in school, duh), and even who their friends should be. In a video game, the child is in control, whether they're driving a race car, mastering mad guitar licks, or leading a Horde raid on the Alliance.

Then, there's the excitement. A good game will get your pulse racing and your adrenaline pumping, even if you're just sitting on the couch holding a controller. Games with a time component amplify this excitement, even in simple games like Jewel Quest where you're down to one second before everything blows up because you didn't find the three matching gems.

Another lure is that most games have skill levels. They start simple so anyone can play, but increase in difficulty as the player improves his game. This sucks the player into the game and gives him a sense of accomplishment, making it hard to stop playing. I'm sure you've heard something to the effect of, "But Mom, I was just about to reach level 60 and get a new set of armor!" after telling the kids it's time for dinner.

Easily the most addictive games, though, are the ones that have no end. These are generally the massive multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs, like World of Warcraft and Everquest. It's not just about beating an opponent and moving on to the next one. Players often have multiple types of characters, have to perform certain tasks (in the real world we call it work) in order to get better gear or even gold, and work together in groups. Raiding parties are scheduled days in advance, and players are downgraded or denigrated by their fellow players if they don't show up and play for the entire sequence, which can sometimes take hours.

Many parents view gaming as a relatively harmless addiction when compared to the dangers of the real world. When they're home, we know what they're doing and who they're playing with (well, sort of). But video game addiction can ruin lives. Children who play four to five hours per day have little time for socializing, doing homework, or playing sports.

Kicking the habit is hard, too. Video game and computer addicts can't just avoid computers. They need to use them for homework and communication with friends. It's like putting an alcoholic in a bar and saying, "Just have one drink." Parents need to set strict limits and monitor usage. That means the computer or game systems need to be out in the living room or wherever there are other family members present.

Most importantly, though, parents should help their kids find alternatives to video games. Try to get them to participate in sports, join the school band or an afterschool club, or just play outside with the neighbors. Don't be afraid of the words, "I'm bored." The truth is, if they get bored enough, they'll find something to do. You can always offer to give them some extra chores.

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