What happens when parents are already addicted to gaming? One of the replies that I received after last week’s blog was that of a woman with several children whose husband spent many hours a day playing video games. His involvement was such that he didn’t work at a paying job or help in any way with the care of this large family. When he was asked to stop and participate in family affairs he refused or stated that he was in the midst of a critical juncture and couldn’t leave the game he was playing. Her frustration was evident. I don’t know the history of the man being described but my guess is that he had been gaming compulsively for many years.
Although the consequences may be more serious, the symptoms of gaming addiction for adults are no different than they are for children. It is still a matter of being more invested in the virtual world than in real life. Hilarie Cash, PhD and Kim McDaniel, MA (Video Games and Your Kids (Issues Press, 2008.) provide a number of questions which allow one to assess whether a person’s gaming habits constitute addiction. They suggest concerns such as the following: Inability to predict the amount of time spent on gaming; Failed attempts to control personal gaming behavior for extended periods; Having a sense of euphoria while gaming; Craving more gaming; Neglecting family and friends; Feeling restless, irritable, and discontented while not gaming. If someone answers yes to most or all of these questions, it is probably time to consider the activity as problematic.
When an adult, especially a parent, is gaming addicted the results are more far-reaching and significant than they are for a child. As with any other addiction they may greatly affect his or her ability to work or to parent effectively. The manner in which another concerned person—a spouse or even a child—addresses the issue is also very different. Parents can monitor a child’s behavior, set and evaluate limits on screen time or even remove the computer altogether. It is a different matter when dealing with another adult. Cash and McDaniel point out that the necessary interventions are similar to those that one would use with someone who is gambling or abusing alcohol or drugs.
As I describe in my book Family Entanglement https://www.createspace.com/4008162 the first step in addressing the troubling behavior of another person, whether it is a spouse, a parent, a child or a co-worker is to evaluate the quality of the relationship that you have with that person. I believe that this is the missing piece in the treatment of any problematic behavior, including addictions. There must be some positive elements in your relationship with that person or he or she will hear your counsel as irrelevant at best or at worst, obnoxious and judgmental. So before we plunge into critiquing another person we need to assess whether we can rely on a reserve of good feelings toward each other in the emotional “bank.”
A good next step is to consider what gaming means to this person who may be addicted. Does he or she have other outlets which provide self-esteem and a sense of worth? Is the outside job rewarding or meaningful in some way? Where is the person developmentally? This is a tough one but worth addressing because research is showing that persons who have been gaming for many years may have developmental arrests in their psychological development.
Finally we need to assess whether we are willing to set up an informal treatment plan with the addicted person in which mutually agreed upon rules and boundaries are set up to limit screen time and ease the person back into engagement with the family and the demands of an adult world. Cash and McDaniel suggest openers such as the following:
“You are gaming five or more hours a day, not working and not helping with the family.”
“I am very concerned about you, and I’m angry. I feel taken advantage of.”
“You must stop gaming for a while, come back to the family and get counseling. And we would like you to talk with us about how you feel.”
If it is not feasible to accomplish such an agreement and if the addiction is too severe it may be time to consider that professional help with an addiction counselor is needed. Finally the family members of a person who is seriously addicted may have to determine when they have reached the limits of their own tolerance for this serious and potentially destructive behavior. The real possibility that family members have had enough can sometimes be the catalyst to propel someone into treatment.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.