Ten Reasons why Children Under the Age of 12 Should NOT Play Violent Video Games

At TAG Counseling we frequently work with teens who suffer from video game and/or screen addictions. More and more kids are playing violent games early in childhood resulting in increasingly difficult social problems we’re dealing with as a society. Moving to Learn recently posted the following article as to why children under the age of 12 should not play violent video games… and the information is sobering.

Video games are a ubiquitous form of entertainment in today’s children and youth, and while fun and exciting, video games have a dark side that parents, teachers and clinicians can no longer afford to ignore. The recent rise in mass killings by gun, knife and moving vehicles, has wrongly focused on gangs and gun control as a primary intervention. Society would be wise to shift attention toward understanding the underlying components of a mass killer.

While there are likely multiple factors contributing to the origins of mass killers, we do know that all shooters are gamers, and that gangs use video games to practice the art of shooting. Immersion in a virtual reality of violence has profound impact on developing brains, highlighting the urgency in looking at what type and how much violent media our children are exposed to, and at what age.

Regarding brain and body development, what children do determines who they become. Children who excessively engage in mindless, fast paced, violent media content, will have a much different brain and body than a child who plays outside in nature. The new generation video games contain substantial amounts of increasingly realistic representations of physical and sexualized violence. The mature nature of such games is not suitable for children under the age of eighteen, yet many children I work with are playing violent, mature content as young as age 3.

Managing video game use by children is not easy, but well worth considering with reference to the negative ramifications of gaming overuse on child health and wellness. Three parameters are important to consider in video game management: duration, content, and age of first exposure. Children who start gaming later in childhood, and who follow expert guidelines for game duration and content (see below), will demonstrate less negative effects. Whereas children who play fast paced, violent video games for long periods, and who start gaming as a young child, will exhibit a greater number of below noted negative effects.

It is advised that children who experience 3 or more of the following escalating conditions should work with their parents, physician and/or therapist to reduce video game duration, change to non-violent content, and quit violent gaming altogether if < 12 years of age. This is a hard step for most parents to take, and an even harder step for parents with children exhibiting adverse effects of video games. Parents cannot continue to look away from these potential or real problems in their children. What we resists, persists; what we look at, disappears.

  1. Physical Harm

When children are gaming their bodies are sedentary and their hearts and brains overstimulated, causing significant physical harm. Developing bodies crave movement, yet video games entrance and hypnotize the brain into telling the body to sit still, often for very long periods. Psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Dunckley author of “Reset your child’s brain” reports that when children play video games, their sympathetic nervous system responds with a hyperarousal state of “flight or fight” characterized by adrenaline release from adrenal glands and dopamine production in the brain. We know that sustained high blood pressure and increased heart rate from prolonged gaming, increases risk for heart attack and stroke in later years. A child who plays video games who is also taking stimulant medication for ADHD, or a gaming child who is physically unfit, increases their risk for eventual heart attack and stroke. In over 30 years as a pediatric occupational therapist, I have observed rapid escalation in prescription of stimulant medications to incredibly unfit children who refuse to participate in PE or outdoor activities. Causal factors for video game induced hyperarousal are fast paced and violent content, bright lights, rewards, multitasking, and interactivity. Long term high adrenaline stress states can result in chronic adrenal fatigue, implicated in a number of physical illnesses including cancer and autoimmune disorders.

Question: Is your child physically healthy?

To Do: More green time, less screen time. Only allow screens if homework finished and kids have played outside for at least one hour after school. Get out the bikes; do more family-based activities.

  1. Brain Damage

To achieve functional efficiency during brain development, the brain prunes or cuts away neuronal tracks to areas of the brain that are not being used. The frontal lobes of the brain are known for executive functions such as attention, memory, and impulse control which are critical for academic success. Because brains develop in conjunction with stimuli in the surrounding environment, media content in high screen users is key regarding brain pruning. Exposure to mindful or educational content results in active or constructive learning, which maintains and strengthens neuronal tracks to frontal lobes. Whereas exposure to mindless or entertainment content such as fast paced and violent video games, constitutes passive or destructive learning which research shows rarely requires use of frontal lobes, resulting in frontal lobe pruning. Again, ‘what you do determines who you become’. Numerous research studies have documented frontal lobe atrophy in children who game over 4-5 hours per day. While brain development has a degree of plasticity or ability to repair damage, over half of the brain is hard wired at age 12, and the majority of the brain is hard wired at age 20 years. Children have the right to a childhood free from violence. Encouraging outdoor play in nature can heal the neurological damage created by overexposure of violent media content.

Question: Is your child impulsive or has difficulty paying attention?

To Do: Talk with your child’s teacher to see how they are doing academically, and ensure your child is not allowed to game at school.

  1. Sleep Deprivation

The National Sleep Foundation reports that over 60% of children and youth are chronically sleep deprived. While we know that sleep is essential for brain repair and body health, what the general public doesn’t know is that sleep deprivations increases incidence of obesity, diabetes, poor academic performance, risk taking, heart problems (stroke and heart attack) and even cancer. During my classroom-based Tech Talks, 75% of students report they are allowed screens in their bedrooms and 50% report they use screens when they should be sleeping.

Question: Is your child using screens late or in the middle of the night?

To Do: Prohibit all screen usage one hour prior to bed; book, bath, bed. Do not allow screens in bedrooms, or any other area where you can’t monitor content e.g. back seat of car, bathroom, when you’re not home.

  1. Violence

With rise in video gaming, prolific research is documenting concomitant rise in violence and aggression. In 2009 the American Academy of Pediatrics profiled extensive studies showing media violence is causally linked to child aggression, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed. Early exposure to violent media content has been shown to increase risk of violent behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement Virtual Violence in July 2016 advising  pediatricians, parents, industry and policy makers regarding current video game research and recommendations. Regarding research findings, Virtual Violence policy states: “Summarizing the results of > 400 studies including violent media of all types, researchers found there was a significant association between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and physiologic arousal. Another study performed a similar analysis focusing only on video games. The results, based on 140 such studies, found slightly larger negative effect sizes. Some contend, rightly, that these correlations are in the small to moderate range, but they are stronger than the associations between passive smoking and lung cancer, and many municipalities have banned smoking because of that risk”. APA goes on to recommend that children under the age of 6 years have no exposure to media violence, and first-person shooter games should be restricted from children under the age of 12 years.

Click image to enlarge.

Question: Has your child threatened to harm you or themselves if video games are restricted?

To Do: Get your family physician on board to talk with your child about video games and if needed, get a referral for a family counselor or therapist immediately. This is an urgent situation and requires assistance from trained professionals. Check out Common Sense Media’s list of non-violent video games!

  1. Game Transfer Phenomena

Media imagery affects behavior, a fact capitalized on by the advertising industry. Video game imagery is increasingly realistic and highly immersive, even more so with the onset of large screens and virtual reality headsets. Research is now documenting Game Transfer Phenomena, where gamers retain visual imagery and violent behaviors endemic in the game and transfer these to real life. A study of adult gamers showed 71% visualized video game imagery with eyes closed after gaming; 31% visualized imagery with eyes open. This raises the question of what children experience following video game immersion. The problem with younger children is that they are more impressionable, and what they see on TV or video games, they act out in real life. Gamer brain is becoming increasingly problematic in schools where children act out scenes from violent mature video games resulting in acts of sexualized and physical violence toward other students.

One 9-year-old boy I assessed who spoke incessantly about playing Halo Zombies, threw a rock at a passing truck breaking the window stating “I thought I saw zombies in it”. Matthew de Grood, a noted ‘chronic video gamer’, killed five college students stating “I thought they were zombies”. Dr. Andrew Haag testifying psychiatrist in the trial proceedings, stated that de Grood “was having delusional symptoms which had a profound impact on how he perceived reality”. The recent mass shooting in a Saskatchewan school killing 4 students was by a noted ‘loner and video gamer’. Serial killer Dillan Millard reported he played Halo 4 hours per day using Zombie bullets which explode upon entry. ISIS recently created the ARMA III video game to train ISIS recruits. The recent mass shooting in Florida killing 49 people was by an ISIS militant.

Question: Does your child “see or hear” video games when not playing, or act out behaviors endemic in the video game?

To Do: In addressing the recent rise in mass killings, a prevention protocol should include restriction of violent media content for developing brains. Banning video games for children < 12 years is an excellent start toward protecting civilians from those intent on mass killings.

  1. Mental Illness

The Canadian Mental Health Association reports 1 in 7 children and youth have a diagnosed mental illness.  Douglas Gentile’s 2009 study indicated 1 out of 10 children aged 8-18 years are addicted to technology, with Common Sense Media reporting 50% of youth self-report screen addiction. Never in the history of humankind have there been child addictions. Difficult and expensive to treat, very soon this will become the job of every health and education professional…treating child and youth screen addictions. Schools wouldn’t give children cocaine or crack, yet they readily hand out equally as damaging and addictive devices to students on a daily basis, unmonitored. I routinely walk behind students in the hallways, playground, and classrooms and observe social networking, video games, and even pornography.

A 14-year old youth I was assessing for aggression toward other children told me he played violent video games “almost all the time”. When asked why he hurts other children stated “I get a rush when I hurt others”. While this boy reported he understood there could be a link between violent video game use and aggression, he did not believe that playing video games had any impact on his liking to hurt other children. When asked if he could do the “Unplug Challenge” and not use any screens for 24 hours, he immediately responded with “No way”. With increasing research showing harmful effects of screens on child and youth mental health, prohibiting violent media content in children under the age of 12 years is urgently needed. Prohibiting personal device usage in school settings makes a strong statement to children and their parents of the need to limit screen usage.

Question: Do you think your child is happy?

To Do: Children want to play with their parents and friends. Put the phone down, pick up your kids, and go do something fun outside…now.

  1. Poor Social Relationships

Children learn social skills from watching and interacting with their parents. If parents rarely communicate with each other or their children, these children fail to learn social skills, and go onto a life strife with communication and behavioral issues. There is a critical period at 6-18 mo. of age for attaining social ability. Infants who spend too much time in front of screens, and too little time interacting with their parents, have increased risk of developing autism and oppositional defiance disorder. Parents model functional (or dysfunctional) relationships, which dictate to a large degree how their child will relate to others. Parents who have good relationships with each other, generally understand how to relate to and meet the needs of their children, who in turn pass these social skills onto their siblings and friends. Children who live in a virtual world for long periods, have great difficulty dealing with problems and demands in the real world. Children who’s parents overuse screens feel neglected, and consequently find solace in screens. Hilarie Cash, director of reSTART internet addiction recovery center, states in this video that youth and young adults in her program tell her that there are a number of steps parents can take to prevent gaming addiction including:

  • Help your child develop alternate interests to video games;
  • Repair your own relationship;
  • Do not expect perfection in your child;
  • Be attune to your child’s needs;
  • Set rules and guidelines for internet usage;
  • Model those rules yourselves.

As social skills are key in establishing primary relationship with partners, as well as securing jobs upon graduation, children and youth who have social anxiety or are socially phobic will have much greater difficulty experiencing meaningful relationships and finding work.

Question: Does your child have real (not screen-based) friends?

To Do: Prepare and eat dinner together screen-free every night and invite conversation and dialogue with your children, spend at least half a day once per week in screen free outdoor activity, spend your family holiday screen free. One hour per day, one day per week, one week per year screen free.

  1. Poor Academic Performance

Regarding early exposure to violent media content, Dimitri Christakis study on fast paced, violent cartoons in 2011 exposed 4-year-old children to 9 min. of SpongeBobs, and found significant decreases in memory, concentration and attention…after only 9 minutes! Research by Jay Hull in 2015 found that moderate gamers who use less than 4 hours per day of video games show increased risky behaviors (sex, reckless driving, drugs/alcohol, smoking), increased defiance, and decreased executive function (attention, concentration, memory). Heavy gamers who use > 4 hours per day of video games,  have 4-5 times increased incidence of previously noted effects. While high school drop out rates have steadily declined over the past decade, gamers are at much higher risk than non-gamers for dropping out of high school and university. Increasing incidence of absenteeism and tardiness of children and youth in schools always has me asking students what they were doing at home, and not surprising to hear they were gaming late into the night. Students who are good at gaming often tell me that school is “boring” or “too hard”, and that they don’t get rewarded for trying to do their work.

Many students I work with outright refuse to do school work, and many teachers are turning to using video games as a reward for produced work at school. We are all aware that high school dropouts have much greater difficulty finding and sustaining jobs, as do video game addicts who again are looking for rewards and achievement in their work that they find favorable in video games. One alarming Canadian statistic is that 42% of 20-29-year-old men are living at home, neither working nor attending school; up from 27% in 1981 and 32% in 1991. What is this potential work force doing at home, and why are parents allowing it to happen?

Question: Is your child struggling at school?

To Do: Talk with your child’s teacher to see how they are doing academically, and ensure your child is not allowed to game as a reward at school.

  1. Sexual Perversions

42% of children have viewed pornography by age ten. Early exposure to porn is linked to hypersexualized behaviors including early entry into sex, sexting (sending sexualized messages and photo’s), high risk sex, and sexual violence. What studies fail to include in their data is that all video games rated Mature contain graphic sexual content and sexualized violence. One of the major “enhancements” in Grand Theft Auto 5 is that the player can not only rape and kill women, but they’ve now added torture scenes. It is imperative that parents investigate and continuously monitor what their child is watching/playing on their device.

Children are curious about sex, and while it’s natural to ask questions and want to know more about sex, there is nothing natural about what children are readily viewing on the internet. The dark web is now easily accessible and contains slasher videos and extremely violent porn. In 2017 the UK reported a rise of 71% of sexual assaults by children on children over the past 4 years which they attributed to internet porn.  Utah was the first state to declare pornography is a public health crisis. Again, what children watch is who they become.

Question: Have you asked your child if they are using porn?

 To Do: Watch what video games your child is using or ask them and look up rating on Common Sense Media; remove access to all sexualized content. 

  1. Mass Killings

Some (but not many) parents I talk to who have children with problematic gaming issues, tell me their child has threatened the parent or themselves with harm should they proceed with video game restrictions. When a child threatens harm to self or others, they are clearly in trouble and not in control of themselves or their actions. If a parent feels threatened when trying to implement video game restrictions, then it is imperative they seek assistance from a medical professional e.g. physician, psychiatrist or psychologist. While most shooters are gamers (14 mass murders are linked to violent video games), this does not mean most gamers will become shooters. What parents, teachers, clinicians, and government can do to prevent mass killers is stop letting children under the age of 12 be exposed to violent media content. Student education regarding impact of violent media content by trained teachers in schools is paramount, as is parent education by counsellors and clinicians (RN’s, Dr.’s, therapists, psychologists). Government should legislate video game industry to include clear warnings on all video games referencing harmful effects of video games on children. Parents spending more time with their children and less time on screens will improve child mental health and lessen problematic behaviors and acts of violence.

Question: Are you scared of your child?

To Do: Have your child urgently assessed by a medical professional e.g. physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist. Engage in more healthy activities as a family. Listen to your child’s concerns and stories, don’t talk and lecture.

This article was written by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker, and advocate for children.


Podcasts for the Whole Family

Road Trip

Summer is winding down and as the last long weekend before autumn approaches families are often trying to sneak in one last trip together. But when everyone (and everything!) is packed into the car, mobile devices seem to find their way into everyone’s hands to keep people “entertained” on the road. How about trying a family-friendly podcast instead? Everyone listens and discusses what they thought – informative and interactive – seems like a win-win! Screenagers recently shared their top ten family podcasts – which we’re including below:


  1. The Lollipop War

This battle is about sugar, and how an Ohio lollipop company wants to buy it cheaper while the Minnesota sugar-beet farmers want to keep U.S sugar prices up. Sugar is such a big part of our culture that the topic definitely warrants a family discussion.


  1. The Person You Become

How does it happen that you transform over time from the person you start out as to the person you are today? This episode examines the experiences that shape us. The first part of the show is about a female athlete who reinvents herself after a horrible accident and is really worth the listen.

  1. Why We Hate

Social cruelty is, unfortunately, part of the human condition. Raising youth who want to work to prevent and stop cruelty is a key aim of parents. This is a compelling and, at times a bit hard to stomach, podcast which explores several people’s stories about combating hate. It will foster empathy and spark essential dialogue.


  1. Lady Gaga & Atom Factory: Troy Carter

I think many teens will be pulled into Troy’s story—but it is rather long.  His unending interest in music led him to eventually partner with pre-famous Gaga and help launch her career. She was so determined to become a singer that she convinced her dad to let her take a year off from NYU.

  1. Lululemon Athletica: Chip Wilson

This is the story of a guy who wanted a pair of longer shorts, so he sewed some—and eventually started making the shorts to sell them. Later, when he was trying to figure out what to do with his life, he began taking yoga classes. He noticed how in just a couple of weeks the yoga attendance was multiplying. He saw a significant trend coming, and the rest is history. Make sure to listen to the part where Chip talks about his fall from grace.

  1. Instagram: Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger

I love how the Instagram idea was born when Kevin was on a beach—a beautiful testament to downtime as the birthplace of creativity. It is ironic that his invention would go on to become such a time sink for people—using up hours that otherwise could be spent working on creative endeavors. A perfect way to broach that topic with your family.


  1. Miss Buchanan’s Period Of Adjustment

This is a story that will completely change the way you view Brown v. Board of Education—the Supreme Court decision about integrating schools. I think all pre-teens, teenagers, and adults will benefit from listening to this. It moved me so much.


  1. Students and Teachers  ( I suggest listening to it soon before or after the Miss Buchanan’s podcast episode, #7 above).

In this show, you will learn about the transformation that happens when teachers and students realize what they share in common.

  1. Buying Attention

This podcast is about the fascinating story of one of the first ever viral posts—it involves Nike, so kids will relate to this. In addition, Tim Wu, author of The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads provides fascinating data on how our attention is being nabbed in all sorts of ways.

Extra bonus—best for college age and up.


If you love film history, as I do, you might enjoy this podcast—and well, it may be more for just you than for the family. If you do share it with others, probably best for older teens and up because the themes and language can be a bit harsh at times.  Host Karina Longworth is an incredible researcher and storyteller. Author of many books on Hollywood, Karina pays particular attention to the ways female actresses could be used and abused by the Hollywood system. There is a good chance that once you listen to this podcast, you will be compelled to watch some Hollywood classics. Check out this episode— The Lives, Deaths and Afterlives of Judy Garland.

Sex Trafficking & Identifying Victims


One of the biggest social issues we face today is sex trafficking. By definition sex trafficking is when minors are commercially sexually exploited. As sad and scary as this is, as a society we need to be mindful that this is happening all over the United States. Focus on the Family published the following information to help us better understand this crime and how we can identify and help its victims.

Sex trafficking is a vast web of traffickers and victims.  In order to be able to understand this growing tragedy of sex trafficking, and to help the victims who are caught up in this crime, we need to understand how trafficking works.

The perpetrators of this crime (the traffickers, johns, pimps) don’t fit a single stereotype.  They represent every social, ethnic, and racial group. Some perpetrators are involved with local gangs, others are members of larger nationwide gangs and criminal organizations, and some have no affiliation with any one group. Traffickers can also be women – in fact, many women run established rings around the country.1

Victims of sex trafficking are often young girls who have run away from abusive situations at home and are quickly picked up by traffickers who coerce them into prostitution by promising food, shelter or clothing. Other recruiting methods include befriending vulnerable-looking girls at malls, movie theaters and even schools. The recruiter could be a young man posing as a doting boyfriend or another girl who appears to be friendly.

According to the FBI, traffickers use force, drugs, emotional tactics, and financial methods to control their victims. Often, recruiters may find ways to form a strong bond with young girls – for instance, they may promise marriage or a lifestyle the girls have not had in their families of origin. They claim they “love” and “need” the victim and that any sex acts are for their future together. In cases where the children have few or no positive male role models in their lives, the traffickers take advantage of this and, in many cases, demand that the victims refer to them as “daddy” – further ensnaring them in their web of deceit.2

Sometimes, the traffickers use violence, such as gang rape and other forms of abuse, to force the youths to work for them and remain under their control.  The traffickers can use their ability to supply them with drugs and alcohol as a means of control. Traffickers often take their victims’ identity forms, including birth certificates, passports, and drivers’ licenses. In these cases, even if youths do leave they have no ability to support themselves and will often return to the trafficker.3

Signs of Trafficking:  How to Identify a Victim being Trafficked

Too often, sex traffickers are able to keep their victims in the web of exploitation because sex trafficking can be hard to identify.

It’s important to understand there are patterns and signs that can help identify the perpetrators and help the victims receive help. Victims of sex trafficking are often vulnerable because of homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental or physical disability or lack of legal immigration status. 4 These are all contributing factors when identifying those who may be most vulnerable to domestic sex trafficking.

It’s easy to think human trafficking is limited to certain segments of society; however, it’s vital to remember that vulnerability to being trafficked knows no boundaries. Traffickers often prey on people who hope for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life or have a history of sexual abuse. These are characteristics that are present across age, socio-economic status, nationality and level of education.5

Age is one of the most significant factors in a child being vulnerable to sex trafficking.  Pre-teen or adolescent girls are more susceptible to the calculated advances, deception and manipulation tactics used by traffickers and pimps; however, no youth is exempt from falling prey to these tactics. Traffickers target locations youth frequent, such as schools, malls, parks, bus stops, shelters and group homes.6

Traffickers also prey on runaways and at-risk youth. Within 48 hours of running away from home, a young person is likely to be bought or sold for prostitution or some kind of commercial sexual exploitation. Pimps and sex traffickers are skilled at manipulating child victims and maintaining control through a combination of deception, lies, feigned affection, threats and violence.7

If you — or perhaps your school-age child — are concerned about someone you know, consider these warning signs (compliments of Shared Hope International) that an individual is being trafficked:

  • Signs of physical abuse, such as burn marks, bruises or cuts
  • Unexplained absences from class
  • Less appropriately dressed than before
  • Sexualized behavior
  • Overly tired in class
  • Withdrawn, depressed, distracted or checked out
  • Brags about making or having lots of money
  • Displays expensive clothes, accessories or shoes
  • New tattoo (tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims. Tattoos of a name, symbol of money or barcode could indicate trafficking)
  • Older boyfriend or new friends with a different lifestyle
  • Talks about wild parties or invites other students to attend parties
  • Shows signs of gang affiliation (i.e., a preference for specific colors, notebook doodles of gang symbols, etc.)

If you see any of these signs or suspect a young person is being trafficked, please don’t wait  – report a tip or connect with anti-trafficking services in your area.

If you, or someone you know has been a victim of any type of unlawful sexual activity call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.


  1. https://leb.fbi.gov/2011/march/human-sex-trafficking 
  2. https://leb.fbi.gov/2011/march/human-sex-trafficking 
  3. https://leb.fbi.gov/2011/march/human-sex-trafficking 
  4. http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/multimedia/trafficking_task_force/resources/Defining_and_Identifying_Human_Trafficking.authcheckdam.pdf 
  5. http://www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/overview/the-victims 
  6. http://sharedhope.org/learn/faqs/ 
  7. http://www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/overview/the-victimshttp://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/fysb/quick-fact?page=2 

Q&A with a Gaming Addict in Recovery

With summer in full swing kids all over are talking about the game Fortnite, and spending their time playing it. Screenagers tackles this topic with a Q & A with a gaming addict in recovery and gets his thoughts on the latest teen obsession below:

In my profession in the healthcare world, there is a growing concern about the power of internet games becoming so consuming that an individual increasingly craves game time to the point that they suffer many negative consequences in their lives—in their relationships, academics, work, mental health, and more. The consensus is mounting on the need to officially recognize this as a behavioral addiction—also called a process addiction.

Yesterday the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that it will be adding “gaming disorder” to their International Classification of Diseases. WHO states: “Gaming disorder is defined….by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

This move by WHO is very important. A formal classification of the disorder will help open up access to treatment for many more families and help cover costs for treatments in clinics and rehab settings, including residential treatment programs.

In Screenagers we follow the story of Andrew who we meet in a residential treatment program for internet gaming addiction. We see him embracing his new life after running away from college having flunked his classes due to his gaming addiction.  He was fortunate that his parents were able to pay for him to go to reSTART because insurance does not cover residential treatment for this type of addiction.

I have heard from parents all over the country about their concerns that Fortnite will consume their kids’ time this summer. Regulating time spent on Fortnite and other games is critical.

I recently interviewed a former gaming addict, Cam Adair. After nearly a decade of eating, sleeping, and gaming up to 16 hours a day, he quit and in January of 2015 started the website, GameQuitters. What started as a way to help him find his purpose and keep him away from the consoles, has turned into a community 30,000 strong.  I asked Cam for some advice for parents around Fortnite, but first I asked this:

Q: What helped you quit?

The biggest thing that helped with the cravings was becoming aware of them and disassociating with them. Meditation and exercise helped me a lot, but the biggest thing that helped with the cravings was becoming aware of them. I started to feel the sensation in my body and recognize that it was controlling me. The more I craved it and didn’t feed the craving validated that I shouldn’t be gaming.

Q: Why do you think so many kids are obsessed with Fortnite?

Anytime a game is this viral (40 million people played it in May alone), it creates challenges, especially for teenagers, because everyone is playing it. To not play Fortnite in a high school right now is to be a social outcast. That’s hard for a teenager. Other than the virality, the Battle Royale element in Fortnite can also be problematic because there is no way to pause in the middle of a game without losing. It’s also very competitive and we know competitive games tend to be more addictive. In this interview, Jordan Foster, a clinical psychologist, shared how Fortnite is a combination of many popular games like Pokémon Go, Minecraft, and Call of Duty. In Fortnite you can find fighting aspects, economic aspects, and social aspects, which appeal to many different teenagers.

Q: What advice would you give parents?

Parents have to get more educated and firm with their children’s relationship with technology. It’s challenging these days because as a parent you are up against a billion-dollar tech industry that has a greater interest in selling their technology than they do in your child’s health. Games are different than they were when I was growing up, especially with the integration of gambling-like game design, loot boxes, and in-app purchases. If you notice technology causing problems in your home, or your child has mood swings without them, you must take action immediately. You must set firm boundaries, and stay strong in them. Lastly, it’s easy to feel a lot of shame and guilt as a parent, especially if your child is having challenges, but you must let go of that and open yourself up to help. Parents need to come together more on this subject.

Q: What advice would you give kids?

Learn more about why you do what you do. Why do you behave the way you do? What needs does gaming or technology fulfill for you? What draws you to it? What voids would be created in your life without gaming? The more you understand about your own relationship to gaming and technology the more power you will have to make informed decisions for your highest good. It’s not about gaming being good or bad, it’s simply about whether it’s serving you. It’s about whether gaming or technology is aligned with your values, goals, and the vision you have for your life. Yes, gaming and technology are fun and entertaining, but fulfillment comes from engagement, not entertainment. Living a life of purpose comes from being a creator of the life you want, not as a passive consumer of content.

Q: What advice do you give parents around the game Fortnite?

One simple tip is to understand the natural pauses in the game. Most games of Fortnite last 20-30 minutes, so if for example you ask your son or daughter to come for dinner and they are in the middle of a game, you will meet resistance because if they stop now they will lose. When they play for prestige and to be the best amongst their peers, losing can hurt their social standing. Instead, try to plan ahead. If you see they are halfway through the game and dinner will be ready in 20 minutes, tell them not to start another one after it’s done so they will be ready for dinner – and if they do, you will unplug the modem and they will lose their game. When your kids know you understand how their games work and you will maintain your boundaries while also being compassionate and working with them, they are likely to respond better than if it’s abrasive and a fight. Most importantly, parents need to be educated on video game addiction and the warning signs.

i want to give one more tidbit because clearly you, like me, really take this stuff seriously. Psychiatrist and Gaming Addiction Specialist, Dr. Clifford Sussman says “The more time one spends online, especially in one sitting, the more a process called downregulation causes a drop in the number of dopamine receptors in the reward processing area of the brain. This causes a decrease in our ability to feel pleasure, resulting in a need to seek more stimulation.”

If you, or a loved one is struggling with technology addiction call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Screen Conversations to have Now

Screen time with parents

Summer is upon us! With the warming up of days comes kids out of school, pool parties, BBQ’s … and arguing about screen time?! This week’s Tech Talk Tuesdays, put out by Screenagers, published the following article to help guide parents how to talk about screen time without creating arguments – and with everyone at home and the weather heating up, we could all use less arguments!

Optimizing Parenting:

I find this statistic staggering: thirty percent of adults and the same percentage of youth report that they argue daily about screen time at home. That is millions of kids, teens, and parents fighting every single day about screen issues and many millions more who fight often, though not daily.

I have some suggestions about how to put more joy into parenting given all the new stressors that have come with today’s tech revolution.

1.     Have technology do some of the parenting work for you.

Rather than constantly repeating, “Time to shut it off,” why not have your wifi at home set to automatically turn off at a specific time. Circle, for example, is a device that enables you to set individual filters and wifi access times on all your devices. With the Circle app, you can monitor data usage times for all the apps on your families’ phones. Some internet services like Xfinity also allow customers to set internet access times and limits for specific computers. Still, I always suggest that phones be put away at bedtime because kids are constantly finding workarounds to mobile data control apps.

2.     Adjust your thinking about “fighting.”

Think about the upsides of arguing. I have been reviewing the research around parent-teen conflict and have found some “silver linings” to consider:

  • Teens consistently report feeling much less stressed about arguing than their parents do. So how about as parents, we decide to be less bothered by it too—after all, fair is fair.
  • Research shows many benefits that teens get when they have productive arguments with parents. Healthy, productive arguing, from the teen perspective, is when the parents listen well to their claims and will change rules at times based on good sound input from the teen.

3. Optimize good times with your kids.

There is a study that examined happiness and scarcity where college students were instructed to imagine they had only one month left in the place they lived. The control group did not get this instruction. After a month, the students that imagined time was coming to an end had branched out and done more interesting things and saw more people they cared about than the control group had. Why not try that with your family?

Let’s discuss some discussion ideas we’ve shared so far:

  1. Just a reminder, but I always recommend starting each conversation by everyone saying something positive about tech in their lives. This helps kids remember that we really do appreciate the countless benefits of the tech revolution and that we really do understand why they want to be on screens so much. For me, this week my positive is how much I love that I can access research studies so easily via Google Scholar (when it is only a study abstract I still have to get the full article, but as a start, Google Scholar is wonderful). What is something each of you loves about tech.
  2. What are things you argue about regarding tech?
  3. When are your arguments productive — when do they work for you vs. when are they just downright annoying, repetitive, etc.?
  4. What devices might help create better tech limits/balance in your home?
  5. If you had only one month left to live where you currently live, what would you want to do as a family? Now make a plan to really do one or some of those things this month!

If you, or a loved one is struggling with technology addiction call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.