Technology Tuesday: A Boy and his Video Games

We love introducing you to our amazing staff at Daystar.  We happen to believe we work with the most talented, invested, passionate group of folks, who have such a heart for kids and families. They are a huge part of why we love the work we do so much.  Getting to work alongside such amazing people (and dogs!) makes the meaningful work we do even more extraordinary. Today we’re excited to introduce you to Alex Hopkins.  Alex does amazing work with boys of all ages. One of his many talents includes integrating play therapy into the work he does with children and families.  He sees boys on an individual basis, and leads some wonderful groups with elementary aged boys all the way through high school.  

Today he shares some needed thoughts on navigating the world of video games, and some insight on what gaming accomplishes for boys.

“I don’t like to be told no...I’m just gonna put that forward right now,” declared the 9-year-old boy, as he heaved a basketball twice the size of his head into the hoop above. I held back my laughter at his honest answer to my question, “What brought you to Daystar today?” We continued our dialogue, and the events that precipitated this little guy coming to counseling became clear. Evidently, many times his parents told him “no” involved video games.

“Mom, can I play Fortnite? My friends are on right now”... “Pleeeease!! Just 5 more minutes! I need to finish this level or it won’t save my progress!”...“Ugh, more errands?! Could I at least bring the iPad with this time?”

No, no, and...no. The parents usually had perfectly valid reasons to deny their son’s requests. Yet the constant stream of “no’s” strained family relationships, and shaped the boy’s increasingly angry, inflexible, and shut-down mood.

If you have a boy(s), any kind of gaming console, and [especially] Fortnite in your house, then this story may resonate with you on a visceral level. Dozens of parents come into my office confused, frustrated, and unsure about what to do with their son and his apparent gaming “addiction.” Although most boys are not truly addicted to gaming, many overindulge themselves. Well-meaning parents might react to this overindulgent behavior by guilting and shaming their sons into turning the game off, having big “come to Jesus” talks, or taking away video games completely. Unfortunately, these desperate attempts to regain control often drive a wedge between parents and their boys, and contribute to a family dynamic similar to the 9- year-old’s above. Clearly we need a different strategy to help boys manage game time.

This strategy starts with a question—what causes overindulgent, even addictive behaviors in boys related to video games? As a counselor, I always encourage parents to view their kids’ behavior as communication. One of my favorite authors, Dan Siegel M.D., names this practice “chasing the why.” Why are boys gaming too much? What is this behavior communicating?

A boy’s excessive gaming likely communicates he has emotional needs going unmet elsewhere in his life. Games like Fortnite provide opportunities for social connection with peers, a creative outlet, a sense of autonomy, competence, and shear delight. All boys search for places that meet these needs, and finding satisfaction in video games is not inherently bad. However, when video games become the single place a boy fills his emotional stomach, chances are he is starving in other places such as school, or at home.

Helping your son manage game time goes beyond unplugging the Xbox, and involves addressing this deeper hunger. Try using these principles as a guide...Balance game time with ample opportunities for real-life creativity and human connection. A counselor I know talks about taking an “other activities first” approach. For example, learn a new skill with your son on the weekends, or provide supplies for him and friends to film and edit a movie together. Reward interests in gaming-related hobbies like coding and video production. Depending on your boy’s age, help him name his need for relationships, independence, and mastery. Together, come up with a list of activities—including gaming—that meet these needs. Meanwhile, model healthy use of tech in the home. Make a family plan establishing where/ when screens are, and are not, allowed. Separate gaming space from other spaces used for sleeping (no consoles in bedrooms) and family activities. Finally, show interest in your son’s gaming life. Play with him, or watch him play for a bit. Learn the language, ask questions, and bond over something he loves. Starting with these principles will hopefully lead to saying “yes” a lot more often than “no” to your boy and his video games.