9 signs that your child is addicted to video games, and how to curb it

Beachwood clinical psychologist shares warning signs and approaches to kicking the habit
Updated: Jan. 10, 2019 at 10:03 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Does your child spend hours playing Fortnite? Do they obsess over Minecraft? Do you worry that this hobby is more like an addiction?

Dr. Jay Berk, a Beachwood clinical psychologist -- who specializes in electronic gaming addiction and treatment -- said it’s smart to be concerned, and smart to get ahead of a much bigger problem, if a child’s habit is morphing into an addiction.

Here are nine signs your child is addicted to video games:

1. The child has an explosive, extreme reaction to having games taken away.

2. They are losing friends.

3. They stop participating in sports.

4. They no longer participate in things they used to like.

5. Content of games shifts to inappropriate subject matter, like anime pornography.

6. The child is stealing money to gain advantages in games.

7. Grades are dropping in school.

8. The child is falling asleep in class.

9. They continue to game, even increasing their hours, despite negative consequences.

To start addressing the problem, take away all games and phones at night, said Berk. And be sure to know the pass codes, and passwords for all their accounts.

“We’ve had kids violently attack their parents over video games. That would be in the extreme, of course, but I think mood swings, ripping up the place, things like that. So I think parents need to be prepared for that,” said Berk.

But Berk warns, don’t react in an extreme way yourself.

“You start putting limits on them and the horse is already out of the barn. You’re gonna have problems. So what I say to parents is the worst time to do it is like right in the middle of it because parents will get mad and they’ll just rip the cord out of the wall. They’ll be: ‘That’s it, I’ve had enough of the Xbox, I’ve had it,’ and that’s bad timing. What they need to do is do it in a calm way and say: ‘We’ve got a problem here. We’re going to start making a plan regarding your electronic use. Here’s what we’re going to do,’” he said.

Berk is also in favor of a pay-to-play approach, suggesting that parents allow a certain amount of gaming time each day, but allow kids to earn more time through exercise and/or other activities, like reading.

Electronic addiction isn’t like other addictions, like substance abuse, where therapy calls for going cold turkey.

“This is more like an eating disorder and you can’t not eat. Kids cannot just stop using electronics. So what we have to do is teach healthy use of electronics to kids. And so parents have to explain why they want the kid to limit the electronic use,” said Berk.

Dr. Berk says expect the process of “kicking the habit” and curbing video gaming to be a months-long process that must involve the parents as well as the child.

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