My son had an obsession with video games. Chances are… your son might have one too. Many of us know that our kids are obsessed, even addicted to video games and that it’s ruining their lives, but many of us don’t do anything about it. We’re the ones that buy it, enable it, and even encourage it. There’s no one to blame but myself. We have the power to fix the problem but we lack the discipline to actually implement a plan and be consistent.
You may think I’m being extreme, but I truly observed addiction like qualities in my son as I attempted to remove video games from his life. We started by only allowing him to use his iPad or play the XBox at night. It still felt like he was obsessed. Next, we limited it to just Fridays and Saturdays. Then he would try to spend every waking minute playing video games on the weekend.
He would forgo a chance to go play golf, go swimming, go out to dinner, or grab some ice cream with the family. All he could think about was the fact that other events were cutting into his video game time. So we limited it again to Friday and Saturday, but only after it was dark. Still, he was obsessed. I took away the iPad completely… for good… because of the isolationism associated with that device, so all that was left was the XBox.
I figured I’d play with him so that we could have some father and son time at night doing what he wanted to do. But I would get sick of it after awhile and he’d still want to play for hours. Again… he was obsessed, and he didn’t want to do anything else. No movies, sports, or trips to the ice cream shop.
The thing we need to keep in mind is that none of this is their fault. It’s my fault. Video games and personal devices were built to be addicting. It’s my job to protect them from these things in their youth.
So How Did I Fix My Son’s Obsession With Video Games?
You might laugh at how simple this was. I took away all electronics cold turkey but then made a deal with him. (Not that I have to bargain with him… but I had a reason for making the deal.) The deal was this. If he could beat me at chess, then he could play video games. I knew that it would take him a long time to get good enough to beat me at chess. If the day finally came that he did beat me at chess, he could play… but he would need to remain the champion in order to keep playing. When I beat him back, the video games disappear.
On nights, weekends, and any other time of the day, I see my son taking a much greater interest in lots of other things. He doesn’t beat me at chess but he has lots of fun trying. He wanted to go to Barnes and Noble to get “The Chess Players Bible” so that he could study it and beat me. He is actually reading because he wants to! He is putting in the effort to accomplish a goal and it is making him smarter in the process. I haven’t heard a word about video games for months and it has truly changed our lives.
If you’re not into chess… then do something else. It can be anything. Issue a challenge and make him earn it.
We don’t generally look at our gaming stations and devices as being dangerous to our kids. We let them play with our phones, use their tablets, and download new games on a regular basis because they bug us to death, and we don’t want to be mean parents. We also don’t want to sit there and listen to them complain that “there’s nothing to do” so we give in and allow them to go into the four corners of the house all by themselves with their own little digital device. We see them stretching their neck because of muscle fatigue and tightness… but still, we let them go on. We go back to doing what we were doing and we forget that there’s a price tag on the newfound peace and quiet we’ve just acquired.
Young kids and their devices remind me of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. They hold their devices in their hands so tightly and I can almost hear them whispering “my precious.” Try to take it from them and they might even bite your finger off! I’ve seen 3, 4, 5, and 6-year-olds that WILL NOT do anything else but play on an iPad or phone and then throw a fit if they are denied. 9 out of 10 times the parents just give in so that they’ll be quiet. It is the modern day pacifier for both the young and old…and do you remember how hard it was to wean your infant off that pacifier?
When I was growing up, we were lucky to get in a little Atari or Nintendo. Do you remember trying to get your Nintendo to work? Blowing in the games, shaking them, and then hitting the side of the console. There were only a few games. A little Mario Bros., Tecmo Bowl, Gyromite, and Duck Hunt. Maybe even a little Castlevania or Metroid if we were lucky. But it was minimal. We didn’t have an endless selection of games just one finger tap away. We’d play them and we’d get sick of them. But most of the time, we rode bikes, went swimming, played marbles and pogs. We played hide and seek, tag, neighborhood wide kickball, soccer games and we invented many of our own games. We were allowed to be bored, and the scarcity of technology forced creativity and out of the box thinking upon us.
Why Did I Want To Fix My Son’s Obsession With Video Games?
There is a huge difference between using technology to consume mind numbing, worthless, and addictive materials and using technology to be creative and innovative. You would have never caught Steve Jobs or Bill Gates playing Pokemon Go, or Clash of Clans for hours on end. They were “creating”…not “consuming” someone else’s creativity.
If my daughter asks me to use Adobe Premiere on the computer so that she can edit a family video, I have no problem with her doing so for hours, because she is using her brain in a creative capacity. She is building a skill that can be used throughout her life. Ali Partovi, an advisor to Facebook, Dropbox, and Zappos noted that “Just as I wouldn’t dream of limiting how much time a kid can spend with her paintbrushes, or playing her piano, or writing, I think it’s absurd to limit her time spent creating computer art, editing video, or computer programming.”
When the brain is in creative mode, it’s working hard and growing. It will also get fatigued which will, in turn, force her to want to take a break and do something else. She will come back to it when her brain is rested and she’s ready to get back to creating and innovating. But if she was sitting comfortably on the couch with an iPad consuming the videos or playing any of a seemingly infinite number of addictive games, she could spend an entire day on that device with absolutely nothing to show for it.
When the founders and inventors of the very computers you’re working on right now are concerned about the amount of time their own kids spend with the technology they invented, you know we’ve got a problem. Both Steve Jobs (Founder of Apple) and Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft) appear almost as drug dealers who know the danger of the drug they sell and therefore take measures to protect their own kids from becoming addicted to it. Even though they know the blessings of the technology, they also know that placing that kind of power in the hands of their youngsters at too young of an age without restraint is one of the most dangerous things they can do.
When journalist Nick Bilton asked Steve Jobs about his children’s use of technology at home, the Apple founder blew this journalist’s mind. Nick assumed that “Job’s household was like a nerd’s paradise: that the walls were giant touch screens, the dining table was made from tiles of iPads and that iPods were handed out to guests like chocolates on a pillow.” Jobs instead told this journalist that “We limit how much technology our kids use at home” and that his kids hadn’t even tried using the new iPad.
This same journalist continued by reporting that this same sentiment was a common theme among many of the chief technology executives and venture capitalists that he met with. These high-tech dads “strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends.” Nick was confused by his findings: that tech giants would have such stringent controls on their kids use of technology while the rest of the world would “seem to take an opposite approach, letting their children bathe in the glow of tablets, smartphones, and computers, day and night.”
What was it that these dads knew that the rest of the world didn’t?
For Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter, his two boys get instead of iPads…gasp…books. Tons of them sitting on the shelves for them to read at their will and pleasure. Most importantly, he said there was one rule that was “implemented” by almost all of these high tech dads: “There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever” These dads are on the front lines and are acutely aware of what goes on with the technology that they invented. Debilitating pornography, bullying, and addiction are all very real and none of these dads want their kids to have any part of it.
iPads, tablets, phones, and TV’s are highly consumable. They’re too easy, too comfortable, and too convenient. They are seldom used to build and primarily used to consume. An adult can use it wisely to consume information responsibly but for kids, the danger is too great. If it isn’t pornography, it’s something else that is calculated to addict. It’s too easy and unproductive. It’s active vegetation of your kid’s mind.
Most dads that I know are into technology. Some even like video games. I know I did. I think that’s just the way lots of guys are wired. But I saw something happening with my son at age 10 that I strongly felt was going to negatively impact his life and our relationship. So I fixed it and replaced it with the game of chess. We sit across from each other and interact for about 30-45 minutes during a game. He loses, (sometimes he gives me a scare) and then he goes on to figure out something else to do with his time, and it always leads to creativity.