Dear Amy: I am 13 years old and addicted to video games.
I would wake up early in the morning and just play on the weekends until they asked me to stop.
It has gotten to the point where my mom has bought a safe to keep the controllers in. I have gone through her desk desperately and found the key, which I later told her I had taken. Please help!
Addicted to Games
Dear Addicted: I shared your question with my friend, the popular comic (and deep thinker) Paula Poundstone, who has dealt with this in her own life. Paula is also author of the wonderful memoir, “The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness,” (2017, Algonquin Books).
Here is Paula’s response, addressed directly to you:
I’m so sorry. This is a really difficult problem that you are facing. I want you to know that it is not your fault. You, like so many, have been the victim of adult greed.
The companies that make those games hire behavioral psychologists to purposely help them make the games addictive. They have designed the games so that your brain gets hits of a feel-good chemical called dopamine when you play them. A brain overstimulated by video games looks the same as a brain on cocaine.
So, it is not your fault. Unfortunately, it is, however, your problem.
The truth is, there is no good reason to play video games, when you consider that doing so can alter the white matter in your brain. That would also be called “brain damage.” If you found out that playing Monopoly could give you brain damage, do you think you’d want to ever play Monopoly again in your life?
There is some really terrific news here, though: You recognize that you have a problem, you busted yourself for taking the key to the safe and you are asking for help. All of that is major!
My son also suffered from video game addiction when he was growing up. I foolishly put him in front of a computer when he was three, because I believed the lie that the tech companies told us about computers, and games, being “educational.” He stopped having interest in other people, his family and all of the other things he used to do, like sports, music and homework. His schools made the situation worse, because even when I tried to say, “No computer use, at all,” he was awash in computer time at school, and they, needlessly, required homework to be done on the computer. He was angry and anxious most of the time, and even if he wasn’t playing video games, he was mentally plotting how he was going to get his next chance to do so. I think the saddest part is that he felt awful about himself.
Any of this ringing a bell?
I choke on the irony of directing you to a website, but the suggestions and support at familiesmanagingmedia.com are good.
Don’t reward yourself with game time. That sets up the wrong dynamic. I don’t even think you should taper off. Get rid of your gaming system. It’s easier to just not have it around. Replace video-gaming time with activities that we know are good for the brain: exercise, reading, being out in nature, writing, learning to sing or play an instrument, make art, get involved in building, dance or theater. Ask your school to help you start a support group.
I ended up sending my son to an outdoor program. He lived in a tent for a year and a half, where he couldn’t plug anything in. You know what, though? Even after a year and a half, he said that the cravings never went away. Stop now, before it steals your life.
Thank you for asking for help. I’m proud of you. You may have helped others do the same.
Dear Amy: Regarding “Perplexed,” who had loaned money to her nephew (and he had stopped making payments), I have this saying about loans: Unless you are a bank, never loan anyone more money than you would be willing to give them as a gift. And the corollary is: Never lend more money until they paid off the last loan.
Voice of Experience
Dear Voice: Both of these axioms are extremely useful when pondering lending money to family members. I thought it was quite generous of this aunt to set up this car loan for her nephew, but the result was unfortunately fairly predictable.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.