"Video games are ruining my life. If I’m not playing, I’m thinking about playing. I have, like, no real friends."

These are the words of a high school student addicted to the online computer game, World of Warcraft.  The average World of Warcraft player plays twenty hours a week.  That’s the average!

"His grades are down the tubes, he skips meals, and he hardly spends any time with his friends."

These are the words of a parent who recently phoned me desperate for help.  I asked her to estimate how many hours a week her son spent playing games.  "Forty-three," she immediately replied.  "I kept track last week."

Millions of children love video games, especially boys.  Our national survey revealed that 92% of children age 2-17 play regularly.  That translates into 59 million young players.  The overwhelming majority of these children play their video games, do their homework, keep up their responsibilities, and have other interests.  No problem.  So please do not get me wrong—I am not saying that video and computer games are bad for children.  I think games like Myst and Sim are great. In fact, having exposure to these types of games may be less harmful and more beneficial than exposure to other forms of screen media.

Computer game addiction is real and growing.  No one knows how many kids are obsessed, but I know the toll is mounting.

How will a parent know if his/her son or daughter is headed for trouble?

You should be concerned if your child:

  • Repeatedly breaks family rules about when and how much game playing is allowed.
  • Withdraws from friends and activities to spend time playing.
  • Sneaks and lies about game playing.
  • Neglects school work and other responsibilities.
  • Throws temper tantrums when limits are imposed.

Some parent-child arguments about video and computer games are part of 21st century America.  So do not panic if you have had your share of those types of arguments.  On the other hand, do not ignore signs of compulsive playing.

Tips to make sure computer and video game playing remains a positive part of your children’s lives:

  • Set clear ground rules about when, where, how much, and what kind of game playing is allowed.
  • Limit game playing time.
  • Require that homework and other chores be completed first.
  • Keep video and computer games out of children’s bedrooms.
  • If your child refuses to cooperate, restrict access for a period of time.
  • If nothing else works, go cold turkey. Get rid of the games.

Suggested Readings

David Walsh, Ph.D. is the president and founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family. He has written nine books including the national best sellers Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen (Free Press, 2004) and No. Why Kids-of All Ages-Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It (Free Press, 2007).