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Is there a gaming zombie at your house? Top tips for breaking the spell

May 25, 2021

gaming boy zombie

When life itself becomes a brief and boring interlude between gaming sessions, it’s time for mum and dad to take action. But how? Experts say teaching kids how technology really works may be the most powerful intervention of all.

It’s not strictly speaking an “addiction” or a “disorder.” Because kids who resist breaking suction on their favorite game or app are not disturbed or abnormal, though their behavior may be troubling. 

The fact is, children who essentially need to be arm-wrestled off their favorite game - and make no mistake, that’s most kids, at least occasionally -  are simply following instructions: the unwritten but hugely powerful rules of continuous engagement that are baked into the technology itself.

That’s important to understand if there's a zombie gamer in your house - because it's a reminder that your child’s difficult behavior around screens is exactly what the technology has been engineered to cultivate. 

Blaming them for their lack of willpower - or yourself for your perceived failure as a parent - is inappropriate and, more to the point, unproductive. 

Previously, we looked at some of the key strategies tech companies employ to keep kids hooked, including variable feedback, lack of stopping cues, artificial goals, and cliffhangers. (If you missed that blog, you can learn more here.)

When you consider how the deck is stacked, the real mystery is not why kids have trouble turning off their games. It’s why they ever press ‘pause’ at all.

No wonder so many parents feel helpless to break the cycle.

But as a wise woman once observed, knowledge is power. Educating ourselves about how technology works - how it exerts its pull on us at very very deep levels - can transform our families' lives. 

And if that sounds dramatic, it’s because it is.

Once we've educated ourselves, it’s time to pass our knowledge on to our kids.

Because, sure, they know more about TikTok or Minecraft than we do - but when it comes to understanding the psychology of screen engagement, or the way the profit motive of big companies structures our online lives, they are downright clueless.

That’s why experts like Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, and child clinical psychologist Randy Kulman Ph.D., advise parents to 

  • Educate kids about how technology companies make money from “free” apps and games.
  • Empower them to push back when they recognize they are being manipulated.
  • Encourage them to make conscious choices about technology use.
  • Support them to pursue screen-free activities and hobbies.
  • Model “being in the moment” - no one said this was gonna be easy! - without the need for constant stimulation via screens or anything else.
  • Declutter your family’s online life and embrace the concept of “digital minimalism” - a commitment to shaping your screen-time around your values. 

Can parental controls help too? You bet they can - ideally as part of a holistic approach that starts with an evidence-based conversation and judgment-free sharing.

Is a game ruining your family's life? 

Read our last blog to learn more on why your child is so attached to their games.

Read here

Topics: Screen Time, Online Gaming, Gaming Addiction

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