Video Gaming “Among Us” Advice

Video gaming among children and teens is an ongoing hot topic. How can parents, especially with COVID fatigue continue to set boundaries with gaming? Screenagers tackled this topic below:

There is lots and lots of video gaming these days. Parents tell me how they feel torn because their child does not have any after school sports or activities where they see friends, so video gaming is where they connect with their friends. Yet, they worry about the sheer amount of hours — 3, 4, 5 hours.

Parents tell me about the “decision fatigue” they are seeing with their kids now during Covid. Their children say how they are worn down and giving up on trying to find alternative things to do besides video gaming (or shows, social media, etc.).

Parents feel worn down as well. And the truth is, of course, options are limited right now. I feel it these days now that the cold and rain has arrived in Seattle, and there are so few places to go to do something inside given Covid.

The newest game on the block is Among Us. If you haven’t seen or played it, the graphics remind me a little of Pac-Man. It is multiplayer, and in the game, one player is an imposter and out to kill the others, and it is up to the rest of the group to work together to determine the imposter.

The game is free and can be played on any device. The other day, my kids were laughing on the couch for hours while playing it. I joined in for a while — I was not very good at it.

Today I want to share advice gleaned from experts, parents, youth, research, and my experiences on how now during COVID, to effectively work with your kids to monitor video gaming and ensure they have other social time activities along with video games.

Focus less on  the game and more on what it is displacing

There will be lots of video gaming right now, and that is okay. As a parent, we get big waves of feelings like “That amount of time on that game can’t be good for you.” Or, “That game is sucking up so much time,” and so on.

I highly recommend focusing less on talking with your kids about the need for less time video gaming but instead focus on ensuring other activities.

Stay away from discussions about the games themselves and even big discussions or arguments over the sheer amount of time. Instead, focus on the things you need to work with them to ensure.

Three “H’s” to encourage other activities

I developed this approach that I call the “3 Hs” to help. There are three buckets that you need your kids to put in their lives each day (or close to it) — Healthy, Helping, Humanness.

First H: Healthy. Talking with your kids about how parenting with integrity requires ensuring working with them to encourage healthy things. So, for example, your kids and teens need to be doing some physical movement. They can choose, or if they have not yet, you can create a list and identify a reasonable goal with them. Maybe it is just a 10-minute walk?

We want them to have the strength and stamina for games and sports outside when that becomes more feasible. One idea is to have them try a part of a boot camp class with you, taught by Darsenio. This boot camp is from my gym in Seattle, and Darsenio is one of my favorite teachers. Chase, my son, started doing his workouts online recently and really enjoys them.

Having small goals is key, so the goal is achieved, and they can get the dopamine hit. If you say to your child, “Hey, let’s do this whole 50-minute class,” then the odds are that might not happen. Instead, see if they will do 10-minutes with you. Hopefully, you both will end the 10 minutes wanting more and agree to do another 10 minutes tomorrow.

We all know that one of the main blockages of doing exercise is starting. When someone knows it will only be for 10-or 15-minutes, then the starting becomes doable. If instead, you do a big long class, it can be great, but then you find the next time you might be resistant because 50-minutes feels too long. I do this compulsory short time interval with my patients, young and old, all the time. The goal is to have them end with the feeling they want to do more. That helps get them to try the next day!

Another key health-promoting activity is sleep. Parenting with integrity means making sure your kids get healthy sleep. That requires working with them to have video games and other types of technology off at a specific time. Maybe it’s more realistic for you to make that rule for just three nights a week — either way, it counts.  

Healthy eating is critical for proper development and long term health. You can have them commit to learning to cook one healthy meal a night (no, pasta does not count because it is high in simple sugars and low in nutrients, fiber, and protein). How about having them make an easy homemade vegetable soup?


Cut up (or use a food processor) an onion, three stalks of celery and two carrots, and a couple of garlic cloves and saute in a little olive oil. Then have them add a can of diced tomatoes, some water and salt, and vegetable bullion. Once the carrots are soft, add a can of white beans and some Italian seasoning and voila, you have home vegetable soup. They can add a little sugar because tomatoes are acidic. **I like this step because it shows them how much sugar comes in the store-bought soup. They will realize how much sugar they would have to add to make it taste the soup they have had in the past. The goal, of course, is not to add a lot of sugar to this soup. Serve it with some parmesan cheese and crusty whole-wheat bread.

Second H: Helping. This is all about the fact that every parent I have ever met wants to raise a child that knows helping out in the world is key. When our kids help out, we see that they show and talk about feeling good, prideful, and happy to help others.

Maybe two times a week, your child calls a younger cousin or grandparent who is feeling alone. How about having them write a card to a grandparent to surprise them. Perhaps once a week, you enlist them in a new activity to maintain the home, like changing batteries in the fire alarms or collecting trash outside for 10 minutes (we have a long claw tool that I love to use, along with gloves).

Third H: Humanness. Kids spend a ton of time-consuming “their” games, i.e., the video game maker’s games. We want to ensure that our kids’ unique humanness gets expressed and given time to grow. So, what game ideas do they have? Can they spend 30 minutes a week writing some ideas for characters and plots they come up with for a game in a notebook? If they are not naturally excited by these ideas, you might get ideas flowing by starting out sharing ideas you have.

Humanness is also about the fact that others appreciate their unique wonderful self. You want time with them —  there is no replacement for that. You can’t substitute the cool conversations or laughter you have with them. And the same goes for their friends. Have they FaceTimed a friend that they play video games with? One-on-one time with a friend over FaceTime can lead to different types of conversations than what happens over a game of “Among Us.”

Ways to promote more positive video gaming interactions

Like all these multiplayer games, Among Us does allow kids to play with strangers. Talking about why this is not a good idea is always a good idea. The voice chat and typed chat features of Among Us means they can get exposed to people saying and typing really inappropriate things.

Many parents have the rule for their kids and younger teens that they play their video games in a shared part of the house, and they do not have headphones on while they play a video game with their friends remotely.

One parent told me this week how glad she was to have this rule because it has helped her know her son’s friends better.

Another benefit of this approach is that it also helps keep youth a little more aware of the words they use and how they interact. A win-win all around. Talk with your child about how important it is that their friends all know that they are not wearing headphones and in a public space. They may feel self-conscious to do this, and if they say they don’t want to, then, at least,  they may have conversations about why their friends might want to know.

Some parents have their kids play headphone-free just part of the time. This makes a lot of sense if spaces are small, and the noise from the game is disruptive to the other people working or concentrating nearby. Again, friends all must know when others hear the game playing. The goal is not to “catch” kids swearing or being rude; it is about letting them know, allowing them to play more respectfully since they know others, i.e., parents, can hear them.

Ask to join. Partaking will give you a window into who they are playing with and how that dynamic is going. Also, joining in the fun has the additional benefit of validating your kids and lets them know you understand how much they enjoy playing their video games. That way, when it comes to working together to ensure breaks, and you say, “Hey, I get how fun this game is, and why it is hard to talk about limits,” your kids will believe you that much more.

Partnering with other parents

Finally, I want to address something that can be hard for parents and make a world of difference: reaching out to other parents and agreeing on video game limits. If you have a child or tween, it can be effective to talk with the other parents about setting a joint time during the school week that video gaming stops.

It can be hard for parents because they fear appearing “too controlling,” but the parents often appreciate the call and the opportunity to work together to make the school nights go smoother.

Here are a few questions to get a conversation started:

  1. What are your favorite video games to play these days, if any? If you have played “Among Us”, why do you think it is the new hit game — what makes it so engaging?
  2. What ways are each of us filling our three H buckets and what ways might we fill them a bit more? Health? Helping? Humanness — i.e., expressing and growing our unique creativity, unique thoughts, unique conversations, and so forth?
  3. How many of the friends you connect with through video gaming do you talk to at other times?

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

Teen Marijuana Use or Addiction?

Marijuana use among teens is on the rise. R&A Therapeutic Partners recently released this interesting article about the effects of teen marijuana use.

Marijuana has often been thought of as a harmless drug that does not lead to addiction. However, many recent research studies have determined that not only is cannabis addictive, but the teen marijuana addiction rate is a serious concern. One study in particular found that adolescents are especially vulnerable to addiction, emphasizing the need for early screening and treatment.

Prevalence Of Teen Marijuana Addiction

Researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently examined data collected from 2015 to 2018 to determine the prevalence of specific substance use disorders among adolescents, teenagers, and young adults. Specifically, the team’s goal was to determine the rate of addiction after the first use of drugs, including cannabis, tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, and after the first incidence of misusing drugs such as opioids. They reviewed data for adolescents and teenagers aged 12 to 17 and for young adults aged 18 to 25.

The prevalence of lifetime substance use among the adolescent group in 2018 was 15.4% for cannabis, 26,3% of alcohol, and 13.4% for tobacco. In contrast, the prevalence of lifetime substance use for the young adult group was 51.5% for cannabis, 79.7% for alcohol, and 55.0% for tobacco. However, there was a higher prevalence of substance use disorders within 12 months of cannabis use among adolescents and teenagers than among young adults, which was consistent with the younger age being associated with a faster transition to addiction for cannabis as well as for prescription misuse.

The researchers found that 10.7% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 were addicted after one year of cannabis use. After 36 months of cannabis use, 20.1% of the study participants in this age group met the criteria for addiction. Among the young adult group, 6.4% were addicted to cannabis within 12 months and 10.9% after 36 months.

Impact On The Developing Teenage Brain

Teen marijuana addiction is more concerning than may have been previously evident, as shown by the results of these and other studies. Particularly as the teenage brain is still developing, cannabis may have a significant impact on its growth and development, potentially causing long-term or possibly permanent adverse changes in the brain, according to the NIDA.

Some studies have suggested that regular marijuana use in teenagers is associated with altered connectivity and reduced volume of specific brain regions involved in a broad range of executive functions. Teen marijuana use has been known to impact areas of the brain such as memory, learning, and impulse control. In addition. there is growing evidence that regular use of marijuana can lease to increased mental illness among teens and young adults, including higher incidence of psychotic disorders. 

Marijuana As An Addictive Drug

Many other studies have shown that marijuana use does, indeed, lead to a substance use disorder and addictive behaviors. In fact, some research suggests that 30% of people who use marijuana may have a substance use disorder. According to these studies, individuals who begin using marijuana as a teenager, before the age of 18, are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults. The results of all of these research studies on teen marijuana addiction underscore the vulnerability of adolescents and the importance of early screening for substance misuse among young people.

Increased Potency Leads To Worse Consequences

In addition to the increased addiction rate among adolescents and teenagers, studies have shown that exposure to THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, is associated with an altered reward system, which increases the probably of seeking out other drugs such as opioids. The potency of the THC in marijuana has steadily increased over the past few decades, which could lead to a higher level of addiction and potentially more serious health effects from marijuana and other drug use. In the early 1990s, the average THC content in marijuana was 4%. In 2018, it had increased to more than 15%. This increased potency, combined with the use of high-THC concerns, could lead to much worse consequences among marijuana users, particularly among adolescents and teenagers whose brains are still developing. Questions remain about the full extent of the consequences and whether the recent increases in emergency department visits for marijuana misuse might be related to the increased potency levels.

If you have a loved one struggling with marijuana usage, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Social Media & Racial Injustice

Social Media has positives and negatives. When it comes to current events it can have a significant impact and influence on kids and teens. Screenagers discusses the impact it can have and how to speak to kids about it.

Talking with our kids and teens about media, social media, and the immensely important issue of racial injustice is so critical right now. How do these platforms bring us together to find solutions? How do they fracture us and make finding solutions harder? 

Examples of  positives of social media and the internet right now

As a past researcher in communication science at UC San Francisco, I am focused on how we can best talk with young people that will engage them the most. It is clear that when we talk about the positives of social media, they feel much less defensive and more open to talking about all sorts of other related topics. 

Youth tell me that they are so appreciative of many aspects of social media right now. My daughter and five other teens last week told me almost exactly the same thing — on Instagram, in particular, they are learning so much, finding ways to help with such things as petitions to sign, ways to donate time and resources, help educate others, and they feel connected to something that is incredibly important. 

So if you have youth on social media, it can be great to put on your curiosity calm cap and see if they would not mind sharing a bit of one of their sites with you. I suggest seeing if they will show you things for at least a few minutes every day or every other day as a way to foster conversations right now.  I have been doing this with Tessa, and I love sitting by her side as she shares and teaches me about what she sees, what she wants to be changed in our world, actions she is taking, and more. 

My family and I are talking about topics such as the many unjust policies and laws that have been passed over the years; the importance of crisis intervention teams to help get people with severe mental illness treatment, not imprisonment; and what kinds of changes can and should happen in police forces across the country. 

Access to biographies at our fingertips over the internet means that my family has been able to learn about and then discuss different ways racial injustice manifests itself in society. Over the past two weeks, we have read, watched films, and talked about people such as Sam Cook, Nina Simone, Malcolm X, and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, an American-Canadian middleweight boxer who was wrongfully convicted of murder and served 20 years in prison. His story involves a 17-year-old boy who started visiting him in prison, which gave Mr. Carter new hope. Carter’s story was made into a film starring Denzel Washington. Of course, we also talk about the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many others.

Examples of  the negatives of social media and the internet right now

As a possible discussion topic, I want to share data from Common Sense Media’s “Social Media, Social Life” reports. The reports were based on two surveys of nationally representative samples of over one thousand teens in the US age 13 to 17 — first in 2012 and then in 2018.

One survey question was about how often young people encountered hate speech, such as racist posts online. In 2012, 43 percent said they often or sometimes see such posts. In 2018 that number went up to 52 percent.

That increase is very concerning — especially considering it’s likely even worse than reported. In 2012 the survey question asked about all online content while in 2018, it focused only on social media, missing other racist content on web sites, chat rooms, etc. So the percentage of 2018 would most likely have been higher had the original question been asked again.

One significant difference in the data by ethnicity is that black teens were more likely than white teens to say they “often” encounter racist content online (19 percent vs. 9 percent). That is a really important point to discuss. For example, how often are things posted that are offensive, but people have not learned why that would be the case? What have your students learned in school, anything about racial issues? 

Another negative of social media and the news that is important to discuss right now is how to know what can be trusted. We are exposed to things all the time ranging from totally true, to pretty accurate, to blatant lies. How to know the difference? 

Here is one recent example. My local newspaper, The Seattle Times, discovered that another news agency, Fox News, put up three photos that were digitally altered. The photos had to do with a section of a neighborhood, in our city, where peaceful protests are happening for Black Lives Matter.

One photo had a destroyed building with a man with a gun in front. That did not happen. The window with the broken glass was from a completely different day.  

This is what the Seattle Times said: “The image was actually a mashup of photos from different days, taken by different photographers — it was done by splicing a Getty Images photo of an armed man, who had been at the protest zone June 10, with other images from May 30 of smashed windows in downtown Seattle. Another altered image combined the gunman photo with yet another image, making it appear as though he was standing in front of a sign declaring “You are now entering Free Cap Hill.”

Once The Seattle Times uncovered them, Fox News took them down. 

News gets posted fast, and, of course, there are errors in reporting all the time in all news outlets and social media posts. It is so important that we talk about things like, When is it purposeful? When is it an oversight? When is it because that stories are unfolding and rumors are flying? 

I end by saying, I am constantly moved by conversations these days with young people, and I seeing them work tirelessly to help make positive change. 

Ideas for conversation starters:

  1. What are some of the benefits of social media right now?
  2. Are there things you see on social media or in the news that you are sure are incorrect? Or, sure is correct? How do you know what to trust as true?
  3. What do you think about the survey findings discussed above?

If you have a loved one struggling with social media usage, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Back to School Organization

Parents, the school year is back! This year will have its challenges, but you are ready – and with a little extra preparation we’re confident it will be a success. Below are some tips sent to us by Todd Lemoine team whether kids go to school in person or virtually.
Build an ultimate homework station.   “In order to organize a powerhouse homework station, you must first understand the needs of the child or children,” says Jessica Kennedy, productivity and organizing professional. “Organize the necessary tools and supplies in bins or baskets, and color code them if they’re being used by multiple children. Label every bin and basket. Assign a spot to display artwork or notes of encouragement. Be sure the space is well lit!”

Stay connected.   Download a family calendar app (like the Cozi Family Organizer) to keep everyone’s schedules straight and color-coded. Plus it allows for shared reminders and editable shopping lists, so you’ll never forget when it’s your turn to bring snacks to soccer practice again.

Plan dinners in advance.   Busy families can save major time and money by preparing their dinners on Sundays instead of resorting to takeout. Plus, knowing what’s for dinner will leave you one less thing to worry about during those crucial, post-school hours.  

File everything.   Create a “home file” for the year with a file box or a cabinet drawer. Each class gets its own color-coded file for easy searching. Not only does this system give kids a place to unload past assignments, it also helps them organize reference materials (e.g., a periodic table of elements) as the semester changes.

Start a supply stash.   You know the feeling — it’s 9 p.m. and you’re out of posterboard for your son’s project that’s due at 8 a.m. Prevent future late-night freak-outs by refreshing the store pile: markers, index cards, and so on. You can also save cash by buying products in bulk.

Post the Schedule Where Everyone Can See It It’s helpful to have the big events posted, where everyone can see the shape of the week at a glance. Use a dry-erase board, a chalkboard, or even index cards hung from a clothesline with clothespins. Use a different color marker or chalk for each member of the family.  

If you have a loved one struggling with school, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Is Modeling Screen Time a Myth?

Parents are a child’s first model. Does that work with screens as well? Screenagers explore if this is true or a myth below:

For years parents have said to me, “I know I am part of the problem. I should be modeling screen time better.” 

I first respond by validating them in some way, such as, “It is really great that you are thinking and talking about this issue of modeling screen time. It is so important.”

Then, my next response often surprises them. Rather than say something like, “Yes, yes, I know we all need to do that better,” I gently point out that there is a major problem with the goal of “trying to model better” — the problem lies in the ambiguity of the goal — ambiguous goals never go well. 

So much of what I do as a doctor is helping patients recognize and try to change unhealthy behaviors. Issues around behavior change are something I have been fascinated with and researching for years. One fundamental aspect of behavior change is choosing a definable and reasonable goal. 

So to parents, I say, rather than having a vague goal like, “I should model screen time better,” pick a specific goal, and then model how you are going to try to reach that goal. Helping youth learn skills around behavior change through one’s own efforts is such a valuable gift to them. 

For example, I had a habit of reflexively going onto my laptop to work after dinner. Did I really want to do that almost every night of the week? No, I didn’t. Furthermore, I did not want to model this for my kids. 

I wanted to change my behavior. So, I decided that every Tuesday I would try to not go back on screens after dinner, and, instead, treat myself to a creative and relaxing evening. I wanted to make earrings and be more available to my family. On the first Tuesday, I completely forgot, and automatically went on my computer. The next Tuesday, I did not do enough prep, so I still had emails I needed to write. 

When I failed on those first few Tuesdays, I shared my failure with my kids. I told them about my setbacks, and the actions I would do to try to prevent future failures. After the first week, I put a big reminder on the refrigerator. For the second week, I put a note on Tuesday morning’s to-do list to finish all emails before dinner. 

We were all able to laugh at my setbacks, and I was happy to ask them to help me remember my goal.

A goal can be even something like changing the type of shows one decides to watch. Last week, for example, my husband announced to the family that he decided to stop watching the crime-drama, Ozark. He told us the reason he was stopping was that it was adding to his feelings of the bleakness about the world. He said that he didn’t like how the show made him root for people that he did not feel good about cheering for. So, to replace that activity, he planned to start a new book. 

Examples of parents setting specific goals

Over the years, parents have told me about screen time behavior changes they wanted to make. They told me variations of the examples I give here. 

After checking my email, my goal is to turn off the Wifi on my computer for 1 hour each weekday morning, so I can get my writing done and not get tempted to check my email. 

I am going to try to resist checking my phone when we are setting up for dinner and at the table, so I get to talk with my family in a more connected way.

My goal is to take a full weekend off of screens one weekend this month and see how I feel afterward. 

I plan to no longer have my phone in my room at night, just like I have decided I don’t want my teens to have theirs. 

I plan to delete my favorite sports app off my phone because I check it too often. I want to see if I can keep it off permanently and only look up sports on my computer. 

A model for effective behavior change that I love

If you have a change that you would consider announcing and trying, there is a model for behavior change I love in Joshua Klapow’s book, “Living Smart.” 

The one from Living Smart goes like this:

S = Set a reasonable small, and actionable goal.

M = Monitor your progress by doing something like noting on a calendar each time you succeed.

A = Arrange for success like I did when I put my beading tray on the kitchen table Tuesday mornings. I knew exactly where it was, and I was ready to go that evening when my screen-free night arrived. 

R = Recruit people to help hold you accountable. I told my kids, husband, and some friends about my goal and asked them to ask me about it now and then. Wanting the ego lift of being able to report success, gave me some extra motivation. Honestly, though, knowing my kids were witnesses to my attempts was the strongest motivation. When I slipped-up, I asked them for their suggestions of what I could do, and they loved giving me advice. 

T = Treat. My favorite part! Choose a personal reward you value, like having a special dessert. All the data shows that sustained behavior change comes when we get rewards for our change. For example, if one does not like the gym where they do the elliptical, over time, they will stop going. But if they allow themselves to watch their favorite show, only when they are on the elliptical, it can be enough of a reward that they stick with it. Or, they get the reward that they actually start to enjoy the movement of an elliptical. 

I don’t mean to say in this blog that modeling screen time is not important or doable — of course, it is both important and doable. But modeling is complex and is a superb topic to be discussing with your kids. Let me give you an example. If a family has a rule that devices are put away at mealtime, it would be a real disconnect if a parent sat on their phone night after night at dinner. If now, and then, the parent has to step away from dinner for an urgent work call, then ideally the parent would say something like, “I am sorry, I have to take this call for work — but I will tell them I will call them back shortly.” This parent is doing a great job of modeling even though they have actually “broken the rule.”

And how did it turn out for me on Tuesday nights? The habit did take hold for a couple of months, and then I decided that I didn’t want to do it anymore. I do continue to work to take nights off from my screen though. 

Ideas for conversation starters:

  1. How do I model screen time? What messages do my actions with my devices signal to you?
  2. Have you seen me try to change a habit, screen time, or others?
  3. What do you think of the SMART approach to behavior change?
  4. Is there anything around my screen time habits that you think I should consider changing?