How do I know if my son is spending too much time playing online computer games? If I let him, I think he would waste all of his waking hours doing this. I'm concerned about the Internet horror stories I've heard, and I wish I could broaden his interests. Do you have any suggestions?
Many parents are beginning to realize that their child may be addicted to computer or video games – something they thought was simply harmless fun. The Internet-based games you mentioned are especially habit-forming. You're wise to be concerned about the potential dangers they represent.
Players of these games compete against people around the globe. Some of them become obsessed with the "virtual" world of the gaming community. This in itself is disturbing. After all, the Internet is not a particularly safe place for kids to be spending vast amounts of time. One out of five youngsters has been solicited for sex online, and one out of three has "accidentally" stumbled onto a pornographic website.
If you fear that your son may be seriously addicted to gaming, sit down with him and explain your concerns. Use simple, straightforward language. Tell him that you love him and want the best for him. Explain that you're going to start limiting the amount of time he spends online. Talk about the importance of developing interests other than computer games and the Internet. Help him see why it's a good idea to get some exercise, spend time outside, and socialize with other young people. Encourage your son to brainstorm with you about other activities that might enjoy. Make a rule that no play will be allowed until chores and homework are completed. State clearly that from this point forward all online activities will be closely monitored. In a worst-case scenario, you may need to get rid of the gaming equipment or block Internet access by means of parental controls.
After you've laid down the ground rules, it's up to you to enforce them. Stick to your guns in spite of all the whining and complaining. If you're consistent, your child will probably develop some healthy new interests within a few short weeks. Balance is the key: children need to develop a wide variety of hobbies, activities, and social relationships. It's up to parents to guide and encourage them in the process.
You can also feel free to contact our Counseling department if you think a brief phone conference might be helpful.
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