Full disclosure here, I have never been a gamer, except for pong( which I loved by the way, and could have played for hours). I have never played a modern day video game, so what I am about to say here is more psychological and theoretical than anything based on my own experience. But as is the case with most everything, too much of a good thing can be bad.
Saturday's Boston Globe had a really interested op-ed about some some new research on kids who are gamers. The author of the article, a gamer himself in a previous life wrote this about his own experience with video games when he tried to go to sleep after marathon play: "I could still feel and see myself moving around the game’s corridors and rooms, especially when I closed my eyes. There was a strange buzz, too — it was as though some of the neurons that had been tasked with solving the game’s puzzles were continuing to try to do so well into the wee hours of the morning."
Could this describe your teen? I have had a number of parents describe to me the reaction of their teen when they take their kid's X-box away for a punishment. All hell breaks loose, with tantrums, screaming, yelling, and even sometimes violence. Behavior that mirrors heroine addicts in withdrawal. Video games are addictive. They provide your teen with many carrots. Many kids who are attracted to video games are shy, have difficulty in making and keeping friends, and feel inadequate in their studies. Video games provide them with a community of people who not only accept them but probably seek them out. He (and I say he, because mostly we are talking about boys) feels an enormous sense of competence, in maybe the only thing in his life where he gets that boost in self-esteem. Finally he develops a dependence on the stimulation that video games provide. That is a pretty powerful package.
The study cited in this article, which described research on boys 13-21 who were committed gamers found the following: The results show that video games could trigger “intrusive thoughts, sensations, impulses, reflexes, optical illusions, and dissociations.’’ None of this is good, growth producing stuff. Your teens need your help. They can not and will not reduce the amount of time they spend playing without direct intervention from you. This will not be fun. Just want to put that out there. Your kid will become a terror, throw fits like a crazy person, and may even become a crazy person as they adjust to more reasonable and normal time spent on their video games.
With summer coming and oodles of free unstructured time ahead, your teen may be salivating at the thought that there will be no restrictions on his game time since there will be no competing interests like school. Please do not allow this to happen. Because come September when your teen has to get up and get out and attend to the more mundane life of school, you will be up the creek without a paddle.
Here is what I recommend. Go the site: Familysafemedia.com and investigate the various products they sell to help parents control video play. Most of these devices allow you to preset the times and length of availability to play. It works like a DVR, with the ability to turn on the game only at predetermined times, and shuts down the same way. This takes away the power struggle that occurs when parents attempt to stop a session and your teen is in the middle of something, (they are always in the middle of something, needing to get to the next level. Teens who become addicted to gaming lose interest in most everything else. School takes a very back seat, as does normal social interaction with peers and family. If your kid has a laptop, or Iphone you will need to address these as well. Shut off one source and they will find another. Limit the amount of play time, and let your teen decide how he wants to divide it up. If you decide on 3 hours a day, does he want it in one block or divided up over the day. This gives him some control over how he likes to play. In any case, they absolutely won't like this. Anticipate the worst so you aren't caught off guard. And use understanding and empathy. Here is your "I get it moment." " Honey, I get how hard this will be for you. I know you are really good at this and you don't understand why we are making such a big deal about this. But too much gaming really affects your brain. I know that may seem crazy to you, but that is the truth. It is our job to keep you healthy, and safe. We love you, and want you to be able to play but not make it your life."
This is a hard, but necessary task, just ask these researchers.