Dear Doctor,

We are worried that we have a problem. Our oldest child is wild about video games. That is all he does and usually what he talks about. All he wanted for Christmas was a new version of a game. We could not find one, and he was heartbroken. His life is becoming nothing but playing these games, alone or with online friends. What are parents doing to deal with this?

Worried 

Dear Worried,

You are not alone. Many parents are dealing with what has been recognized as an addiction.

We usually think of addictions as having to do with drugs or alcohol, but young people, as well as older, can become addicted to many things. Gambling, pornography, relationships and many human activities and interests are vulnerable.

Addiction causes actual changes in the brain and other various areas have been identified. Managing addictions can be a challenge. As a parent, allow me to recommend a few things.

Be open and honest with your son and share your concerns with him. Make it clear you want him to enjoy gaming as a pastime, but that you wish to see him develop other interests.

Give him some activities that he can join. This could be anything from art lessons to karate, swimming to basketball. Make it a forced choice. Tell him, “You can do any one of these you like,” but make it clear that he has to select something.

Set time limits when the video games are to be turned off. This means structuring time for homework and the likely remote learning he is doing for school on some days.

Check up and reinforce the rules. Games might actually be a reinforcer for completing a school project or assignment. Be consistent and stick to the behavioral contract.

If these do not work, seek professional help. Ask your pediatrician for a referral.

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at lllrsn@comcast.net.

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