gaming addiction

By Wendy Young

We are more convinced than ever that gaming in any form is one of the most damaging things that we have allowed in our one child’s life.

We do not allow any gaming in our home with our younger children. Having seen the impact it is having around the world through our research, past and ongoing, over the last 4 years, we share our journey with a gaming addict, with his permission.

Not everyone who games becomes addicted. The latest stats show that if 20 kids sit down to play, 11 will develop a desire to game again and only 2 will become addicted in the true sense of the word. There are certain preconditions that sensitize a kid to addiction – it can be learning difficulties, bullying, social rejection, broken families, Aspergers or other things similar in nature where a kid feels the need to “self medicate”. There are approximately 2 billion gamers worldwide and of that 1 – 4% are addicted. So while the percentage is small, it translates to hundreds of thousands of children and adults who are addicted.

What happens in the brain is simple a chain of events: they try it, they get a dopamine high and it dulls the hurt. So they go longer and harder each time until the brain builds a dopamine barrier to the pleasure centre of the brain. Eventually they cannot get their high and anger, frustration, self-harm or other forms of unsociable behavior happen as a way to get that high.

Kids will ignore their friendships, relationships, school or college work in favor of gaming. Thye need to play longer and longer to get the same rush. You may also see signs of the condition called anhedonia. This condition is where the gamer cannot find pleasure in anything…they are listless, cannot engage, miserable, believe the game is the only thing that gives them joy, will not want to work or study etc.

All this gaming will keep the person captive and in the most extreme cases there have been suicides directly linked to gaming where the kids become depressed, or get so caught up in their characters that when they are kicked out of games (like when you shut the router off) they become completely out of control.

They get caught in a cycle very similar to a druggie and they cannot get out without intervention. The only way is for a loving caring adult to come into their world, sometimes with force, and remove the “drug”. You should not even begin this unless you are willing to see it through. AND depending on how long your child has been gaming, the longer the recovery is going to be. It has to be total screen abstinence until the dopamine levels have adjusted and the brain has started to heal. This takes around 3 months for the brain to reset.

It is an issue of growing concern worldwide. There are three books I recommend you buy:

Reset Your Child’s Brain by Dr V Dunkley which is a good read for any parent who allows smart phones into a kid’s life.

Brad Huddleston – Digital Cocaine. His talk is linked here, the book is better.

Dr Andrew Doane, Hooked on Games

How do you know if your child has a gaming addiction?

Do you have to constantly remind your child/teen to get off their computer?

Do they constantly talk about their game as though it was real?

Do they spend more than 2 hours a day on their game?

Do they wait with anticipation to their allowed gaming time?

Do they stretch the boundary of their allowed limits?

Do they nag for more time?

Do you have to bribe them to do work with the promise of gaming?

If you answer yes to these the pull the plug on the games and watch the reaction. You will more than likely get anger, threats, tears, promises and more. You have a problem.

How to solve the gaming problem?

You cannot do this slowly or by limiting time. It has to be cold turkey. Follow this format:

  1. Speak to the addict and ask them if they realize they have a prcomputer game addictoblem? Most will not think so and may make statements like “I can make money gaming” or “all my friends do it”. Explain what you have learnt and seen and ask them whether they would like to read/watch the materials with you to help them see the issue.
  2. If there is no desire to change, give the child a 2 or 3 day warning that you are removing all games from the computer, from the home and that all computers are going to be inaccessible to them for 30 days.
  3. if they have a smart phone or tablet, tell them that they will also have these removed for 30 days. Give them a “dumb” phone so that you can stay in contact with them if they move independently of you.
  4. On D-day do exactly as you said. Unplug and remove all technology from the home. If you need your own computer to work on, make sure it is secured with a password and all your own mobile phones and tablets in your possession at all times.
  5. Ride the storm. Things may get pretty nasty. Do not give in or take it personally. You have an addict. Your child will reappear in time. Do not react to threats, manipulation, promises and anger. Stay lovingly firm.
  6. Unplug your router EVERY night at 8pm[1]. Make the house dark, all of you will benefit health wise. It will also cause all the addicts issues to be shown in full color and be ready for some angry aggressive behavior.
  7. It is your home; you control what is going on in it. Do not allow gaming AT ALL for 3 months.

What to do in these 3 months?

Depending on the severity of the addiction your child may need to sleep for a long time. It is not unusual for an addict to sleep for up to two weeks, waking only for food and personal hygiene. They may not want to talk to you or do anything else except lie on their bed. This is fine. Leave them to heal.

Do not nag them to do anything, but set a time limit. 2 – 3 weeks is reasonable. Thereafter you can give them options to choose from however they will need to do chores around the house, get a job if older, complete their daily studies you set for them etc and these things are not negotiable.

Things to offer a recovering addict:


Family braais

Getting friends (if they have) over for a braai

Gym membership

Art classes




Food preparation

Listening to audio books (no smart technology – you can get an ipod that does not have wifi capability)

Listening to books read aloud

Reading themselves

Meeting with a trusted life coach/youth pastor or similar for accountability.

Plan a trip away from the home for a week. If they are older and have you have a family friend they can go and visit that will also keep to the no tech rules, consider sending them away for a few weeks.

Do not expect a true addict to be grateful to you for intervening. They will more than likely be sullen, moody, angry or even flat our resentful for a long time. Don’t react, just love them and care for them and stay focused on the goal of having a healed child and brain.

After the 3 months are up:

It is your choice whether you will allow gaming in again. However, after all this hard work for the child and yourself, it is my opinion that gaming should not be part of their life. Hopefully in this time your addict will realize that life away from screens is better.

Intervening like this is the most loving act and the biggest investment you will make into your child’s future as it now stands.

A note to women with gamer husbands who are not in agreement: it’s going to be hard to do anything without your husband being on board with you. Often husbands who game will use the excuse that it’s a place where they “bond” with their children. This is rubbish. A child needs their dad to be teaching them life skills, helping them to become physically fit and strong, teaching them how to kindly and wisely lead their families. Your husband needs to first be convinced of his own gaming problem. This is not something that is easy for a wife to do, as you do not want to make your home a war zone. Therefore, you need to set the boundaries while your husband is away at work. For instance: no gaming allowed at all when Dad is not around and playing with them. On weekends you can also arrange family outings and get togethers with other families in the outdoors and minimize the time at screens. On weeknights you can be creative and arrange a movie and popcorn night/a cook out night/a board game and hot chocolate night that will also reduce screen/game time.

When the time is right, approach your husband with a calm and gentle spirit and explain what you have learnt and ask him to consider a 3-month screen fast. More than this will be hard to do.

Previous addict shares his journey:

His advice to young people who game:

His website for help, forums and more info:

Parents online gamers anonymous forum:

[1] We have three layers of security on our wireless system at home:

  • Covenant Eyes installed on iMac and iPhones
  • Open DNS https://www.opendns.comalong with our Netgear router which allows us to block sites (we blocked gaming sites here)
  • On our iMac time machine we have each IP address of each device and we limit each one by time.

If you are not a tech type, then the easiest thing is to get Dial A Nerd to come and secure your environment. They will know which program runs with which router which they can then block your child’s device.

End note…
The first 18 months after the intervention were a very hard trying time, but we are truly grateful that we were able to help him through this time and we are intensely proud of him for overcoming many obstacles in his life – dyspraxia, apraxia, dyslexia, Aspergers and social anxiety. He in now 21 and has just completed his 3rd year at animation school achieving top marks and has two job offers in the pipeline. We believe that had we not intervened we would not be enjoying a fully functioning adult child as we currently are.