Assessing the parents role in a child's gaming addiction

In our work with children and teens it is rare to encounter a young person who does not play video games.  While the research varies on the percentages, a common estimate is that 90% of children play computer games while 10% of them are addicted.  While many youth are able to effectively juggle the demands of school, family life, social life and technology, those who are unable to do so experience problems that often times lead to a variety of mental health issues.  In this cases, it is important for the parents to become proactive in disrupting the formation of an addiction.

Internet computer games have an addictive dimension to them for which some young people are very vulnerable. Those children and teens impacted by gaming addiction often become depressed, their school work suffers, they drop other interests such as sports and the level of their social interaction decreases.

Experts suggest that video games fall into 3 motivational drives for teens:

Social: games include Minecraft and Farmville, where players can hang out with ‘friends’ and control their world.

Pleasure: games include Black Ops Call of Duty, World of Warcraft,  and World of Tanks; these games reward the player intermittently so they are motivated to keep playing to get the next pleasure hit. These games are often Massive Multi Player online games and are played against opponents all over the world.

Pain: games include World of Warcraft. They punish players who log off by threatening to take away any rewards or points that have been gamed so the players keep playing to secure their position and avoid loss.

How do parents know when their child needs help for a gaming addiction?

-Large amounts of time spent in Gaming: They spend more time on the computer than physically hanging out with their friends.

-Emotional Dependency on Gaming: The teen feels content when they’re online or playing games, but as soon as they have to stop, they become depressed, grouchy and irritable.

-Sleeping Problems: They go to bed very late and have trouble sleeping.

-Preoccupation with Gaming: They think about going online or playing when they are supposed to be focusing on other things, like doing school work or participating in other social activities.

Ideas for parents for helping a child overcome gaming addiction.

-Confront it: Help the child recognize they have a problem by engaging them in discussion about their struggles in school, in participation in social activities and lack of interest in other outside activities.

-Take Control: Manage their use of media and technology.  You are the parent and you need to set the rules for the use of technology in your home.  This may include limiting internet/computer time, taking away the use of hand held devices and rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior through technology privileges.

-Prioritize your child’s time: Computer games should be played in free time so help decide when free time is and what other commitments they might have (e.g. chores, homework, other activities).

-Enforce bed time rules: Train your child to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Often, someone addicted to computer games will stay up late. Get them to go to bed earlier each day, so instead of the early hours of the morning it is a reasonable time in the evening.

-Arrange recreational and social activities: Replace computer time with more productive activities. They can exercise, play sports, participate in community activities, read or do something else that stimulates and interests them.

-Encourage daily face to face interaction with peers: Encourage them to go out with their friends more. Provide opportunities for healthy peer interaction and activities ou

Family Bootcamp: an unforgettable weekend for parents and struggling teens

It’s fair to say everyone wishes for a life devoid of problems, struggles and trials. An ideal world for parents would consist of picket fences; happy children and leisurely family vacations.

The harsh reality is that, while happy scenarios like the one above do exist, parenting is chock full of trying circumstances — addiction, abuse, conflicts, bad habits, etc. — that ultimately push parents to the brink. How we deal with life’s difficulties ultimately defines who we are.

Yet, overcoming such obstacles oftentimes requires more than a little help. Enter Therapy Associates, a program founded in 2008 that specializes in the treatment of children, teens and their parents, providing guidance and healing with the problems that families face in today’s society.

“Therapy Associates brings together a team of licensed clinical psychotherapists who have worked with thousands of teens and families throughout the United States,” said co-founder Matt Bulkley.

Bulkley explained that one of the most difficult challenges facing children and parents is video game and pornography addiction, a result of the technology boom that makes viewing adult material a lot easier than ever before.

On top of that, with the advent of cell phones, laptops and gaming consoles, kids are becoming increasingly dependent on technology and thus losing grip on reality.

“Most kids have never experience a single day in their lives unplugged from all technology,” Bulkley said. “They have not developed the ability to manage the demands of life without escape into technology, gaming, etc.”

“Entitlement, technology addiction, lack of frustration tolerance, depression, anxiety, laziness, disrespect to authority, lack of direction, substance use and impatience are all consequences of this trend.”

Bulkley and his Therapy Associates partners devised a solution to help in the battle against technology overload, a unique outdoors adventure known as Family Bootcamp.

Based in St. George, Utah, a locale packed to the brim with amazing scenery and exotic locales, Family Bootcamp provides youth and parents with a life changing, five-day intense, therapeutic wilderness experience in the heart of the high desert, majestic red rocks of the southwest.

“Family Bootcamp differs from traditional wilderness and residential programs because it is short-term — just five days — as opposed to nine to 12 months,” Bulkley said. “It falls in an area missing from traditional treatment. We don't believe in a ‘one-sided’ therapeutic approach ... with the Family Bootcamp — parents are involved too.  So, while the youth are experiencing the wilderness, parents remain in St. George and participate in an intensive two-day ‘Parenting Bootcamp.’

”The cost is vastly different as well — $2,500 as opposed to $50,000 to $100,000 that other facilities would charge.”

During the process, youth will experience a weekend devoid of anything technology related.

“No cell phones, no computers, no TV,” said Kena Frey, LCSW. “Being unplugged from all technology and outside communication provides a strong ‘wake up call moment’ for the youth to focus and take responsibility for the simple day-to-day tasks of their well-being including cooking, caring for their supplies and learning to use only the elements of the desert to live.”

Under the direction of Dr. Dan Sanderson, PhD, parents engage in two days of comprehensive parenting sessions focused on the discovery and disruption of unhealthy family dynamics.

“The wilderness is a wake up call, a time for reflection and a chance for kids and teens to explore who they are as individuals, away from technology, friends and the amenities of modern society,” Sanderson said.

The program takes place over a long weekend — Thursday through Monday — thus minimizing school and work absences. The location affords plenty of recreation for families during their time in St. George, as they can explore Zion’s National Park or golf on one of the many courses located in the area.

“A Family Bootcamp is the ideal intervention for families that are not yet ready to place their teen in a long-term residential treatment program, but are seeking help learning to manage problematic behaviors that are occurring in the home,” Bulkley said. “It is a great substitute for a family weekend/vacation and a highly effective way to combat family problems and find solutions.”   

For more information on Family Bootcamp, including prices, dates and additional resources visit


Parental Hyper-vigilance: The Great Paradox of Parenting

Parents today are going to great lengths to take the struggles out of life for their children. Isn’t this what good, caring parents do? Unfortunately, parental hyper-vigilance tends to make children more fragile, rather than more equipped, which explains why many of today’s youth are increasingly incapable of managing demands of life.

This is the great paradox of parenting.  Well intended parents who want their children to be successful inadvertently shield them from the very lessons that will allow them to become successful.  No parent wants to see their child suffer and fail, but taking the discomfort, disappointment and struggle from their development only robs them of developing resilience and coping strategies.

Children of hyper-vigilant parents are left to manage few challenges all their own which leaves them unprepared for learning to manage the challenges that life will most assuredly provide. Over time, it stagnates a child’s development and makes them susceptible for depression, anxiety and lack of self-confidence. These mental health issues then create additional difficulties for the teen struggling to find his/her identity during the adolescent years.

Hyper-vigilant parents who attempt to solve every problem for their child and can’t fathom the thought of their child being uncomfortable are doing them no favors.  Too many of these parents self-deceive and believe they are engaged in good parenting.

Children of hyper-vigilant parents who have become accustomed to having the things they desire, often times, instantaneously, become entitled.  Over time, they develop a low frustration tolerance, a lack of patience, and a complete inability to deal with discomfort of any type on any level. 

The unfortunate reality for these children is that life is full of discomfort.  As these children go through their teen years they are unable to solve problems and deal with the daily dilemmas they encounter.  These seemingly small dilemmas become the genesis of the mental health issues including depression anxiety, substance use, technology and video game addictions.

There is a lesson in this for all parents.  Those who allow their kids to find a way to deal with life's day-to-day stresses by themselves are helping them develop resilience and coping strategies.  The goal of parenting is to raise an independent human being, capable of managing the demands of life.  At some point in their childhood, most kids will be forced to confront their own mediocrity.

A mistaken belief many parents possess is assuming that children can't handle difficult situations. Too often parents assume that if kids start getting into difficulty they need to rush in and do it for them, rather than let them flounder a bit and learn from it.