What I Wish I’d Known About My Teen’s Gaming Habits

Photo by Anthony Brolin on Unsplash

My high school was lucky enough to get a computer lab back in 1981. One of the first in the state. A row of Apple II Pluses that I was so intrigued with, I took both programming classes.

My room growing up looked like a Radio Shack store (kind of like my office does still). When I visited a Radio Shack, I (annoyingly) found I knew more about the products than the employees. I wired up an intercom system courtesy of cheap Radio Shack stuff with the requisite hidden speaker in my older brother’s room allowing me to listen in and harass him at will (he never found it but it was fun hearing him rummage around looking for it).

So when I had kids of my own, I wanted them to be tech-savvy and computer literate. I set up tables and CAT5 connections in our basement so their friends could bring their “boxes” over and game the night away. Considering it an important life skill, I showed them all how to build their own gaming rigs.

But soon the screen time battles ensued. At first, controlling internet access through the router worked pretty good if I wasn’t around to use the wireless switch that turned off just their monitors. The balking started to increase though.

And increase, and increase.

As they entered teendom, I found it increasingly difficult to set boundaries for their internet use. Balking turned to flat out war at times. Things being thrown, monitors and walls punched, you know, normal stuff.

I started to wonder what I’d unleashed after a Disneyland trip where one of my kids insisted on sitting in the hotel gaming.

All these “Pollyanna” articles about limiting screen time to X hours per day work great until your kid is bigger than you and, although normally compliant, starts to ignore your opinion that they’re gaming too much.

As a recovering alcoholic (8 years sober), I knew what I was observing were my own addictive tendencies and it scared the shit out of me.

As they headed off to college in 2018 (with their gaming rigs, of course), the World Health Organization finally recognized “Gaming Disorder” as, whattaya know, a disorder stating “ …people who partake in gaming should be alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities”

No shit, Sherlock.

So what would I do differently if I had a time machine? First, I wouldn’t be so lazy in taking the easy way out so often. Devices are an instant pacifier. Oxy for the “pain” of parenting. And as with all highly addictive substances, they can kick your ass before you realize you’re in deep.

It takes some seriously attentive parenting to get some kids to balance screen time with other activities.

The “my way or the highway” approach may work for some but I didn’t want to be like my parents. I wanted my kids to come to the natural conclusion that there’s more to life than gaming and watching stupid shit on YouTube. I’ve observed dictator and the helicopter parents and let’s just say things didn’t work out so well for many of them.

I’ve always felt that if you haven’t instilled good decision making into your kids by the time they reach 6th grade, you’ve missed the bus.

Most screen time is mental junk food overloading the brain with dopamine which is the opposite of what reading does for the brain.

No wonder kids get sucked in. It’s just how our brains work. Our brains want more, more, more!

How does one counteract screen induced dopamine? For starters, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a lack of passion for reading with many hardcore gamers. Why read when you can just watch a video or play a game? The lack of interaction dumbs down our engagement receptors.

Society in general has the attention span of a rabbit these days. Barely able to read more than a paragraph.

If you have preteen kids you probably think you got this but let me tell you, teendome seems to be where the wheels come off because many parents think that if their kid is doing AP this or that, all’s good. Well its not if they don’t enjoy reading for pleasure.

How do you know if your kid is reading for pleasure? Turn off Netflix yourself once in a while and read what they’re reading. Then get the added extra benefit of having a conversation with your kid. “What did you think of Bilbo Baggins decision to…?” Whatever you do, don’t make it an inquisition or a test, make it conversational. Kids need to know they’re trusted.

The second thing I’d do differently is make more of an effort to come up with creative activities. I left creativity too much in the hands of my kids. Sure, they’ll come up with plenty of ideas on their own, but it wouldn’t hurt to make a list and bring their attention to activities they may not have thought of.

Activities that get them away from their screens like RC cars/drones, go-carting, bowling, geo-caching, having a movie making contest, airsofting, HAM radio (wait, what!?).

Your kid’s friend’s parents (hopefully) understand that your all in this together and should happily be recruited as co-conspirators in an effort to raise our kids to be self-sufficient, respectable, compassionate, happy adults.

Not all activities have to cost money. There are lots of resources for activity ideas. The key is to give kids more ideas than they might think of on their own. Which is way better than the “sit and look out the window” game I grew so “fond” of as a kid, especially on road trips.

If I could have a do-over, I like to think I’d be less lazy, more creative, and more persistent knowing what I know now. Rather than assuming this is just the way it is these days.

The upside and downside of tech is here to stay. Figuring out a healthy balance will vary from kid to kid and family to family. I wish you the best!

Seattlelite with a cat for a muse.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store