Straight Talk: Teens 'n' Twenties

Parents ?clueless? about brother?s gaming addiction
By: Lauren Forcella
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Dear Straight Talk: I’m 17, writing about my brother, 16. I believe my parents are allowing him to socially retard himself with video games. If he gets good grades and does his chores, they feel he can spend his time how he likes. How can they be this clueless? He has no social life whatsoever because his attention is glued to these pretend worlds! So many boys waste their lives like this and have no idea how to interact with real people. Hopefully my parents will read this. ~ Fed up in Toledo, Ohio

Karina, 25, Sacramento: Two of my brothers are well adjusted. The third is a video game addict and mostly a shut-in. He is now 29 with no long-standing or meaningful relationships. Yes, he has exceptional hand-eye coordination and is good with electronics, which landed him a high-paying government job (which I must note, requires little interpersonal interaction). I love him dearly, yet he doesn’t love himself and is constantly unhappy. I hope your parents step up. 

Nicole, 22, Grass Valley: Video games are designed to addict the player. They can be as debilitating as drug dependency. At 16, teens are supposed to be figuring out who they are. 

Colin, 18, Sacramento: People have literally played World of Warcraft until they dropped dead. No joke. Look it up. That said, not all games are this addicting and millions play them. I started when I was 9, slowly playing more violent games. However, my parents never liked it, so I had to argue fiercely and constantly for my daily “computer time.” Then, realizing I was leaving for college in six months, they lifted the restrictions. I indulged, playing five hours a day for a couple of weeks. Then I just stopped. I actually got bored! I still play some, but everything changed. 

Sarah, 20, Santa Clara: I knew many intense gamers in high school who grew out of it. Most are now very social. 

Gregg, 21, Los Angeles: The worst part about being addicted was thinking about the game no matter where I was. I’d wake up early to play, go to school and think about playing, talk about the game at recess with other gamers, and all day I just couldn’t wait to get home and play late into the night. It’s disappointing to look back at the lost hours. Yes, the games are challenging and you feel accomplished, but in reality, it’s a waste of  time that doesn’t advance your life a bit. I can tell who plays and who doesn’t just by how they act. Finally my dad got really upset about it and I quit.

Dear Fed Up: You are spot-on. I wish more parents would wake up and be fed up. The easiest route is to keep computers in family rooms and not allow gaming, period. That’s what I did. It worked beautifully and my kids actually appreciated it. Otherwise, parents: Prepare to nag constantly or finally ex-plode (Colin’s and Gregg’s experiences) – which, sadly, is more than most parents do. By the way, it was because Colin’s parents nagged and restricted throughout his formative years that lifting restrictions at 18 worked.

The argument that most gamers “grow out of it” is lame. Why let them stunt themselves in the first place? And why allow addiction to be part of a kid’s neurological “muscle” memory?

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More from Lauren Forcella

Boys (and the few “gamer girls”) who have “grown out” of gaming, if honest, look back as Gregg does and admit it was a big waste of their youth. Yet very few parents are protecting their kids by disallowing or restricting the activity in the first place. Sure, their kids will play video games elsewhere, but parents have some control over this, too, and more importantly they will have taken a stand in their own home, which has huge influence in terms of parental expectations and conditioning. 

Everyone agrees that youth are our most important resource. And every statistic out there shows our boys in big trouble. But 90 percent of our boys play video games an average of 13 hours per week – in their own homes! Over 50 percent are allowed to play in their bedrooms! The same brain centers that light up when alcohol and drug addicts crave their next fix are activated in intense gamers. Is this the part of the brain we want our kids learning to flex?