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My son has ADHD and can’t stop playing video games. How do I help?

Meghan Leahy

THE WASHINGTON POST – How do I encourage him to try other things without nagging?

Q: I fear that my 12-year-old son, who has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is addicted to video games. He obsesses over winning prizes and getting to the next level. It dominates his conversations at home and with friends, which is annoying to most. I limit his tech time, but he spends more and more time in his room.

I also fear that his obsession is alienating him from other children. A neighbour never wants to play with him anymore. The kid that sat next to him at lunch asked to move. In this pandemic environment, how do I encourage him to get out and try other activities without nagging?

A: Thank you for your question. You are not alone when it comes to worrying about your preteen and his video game use. This issue seems to have become even more pronounced after two years of the pandemic and, in most cases, virtual school. The obsessions of “winning prizes and getting to the next level”, while annoying, are not uncommon for many 12-year-olds, especially boys. Games are created to keep users coming back, and this is one of the ways to do that. This can be distressing for many parents, who report that outside interests seem to drop and that their boys’ sleep is affected.

You have also noted the drop in your son’s friendships in the neighbourhood and in school, but I am not sure whether this is correlated with his video game use.

To begin, I have a request that may make you uncomfortable: Befriend the video games. Bad-mouthing them, taking them away as punishment or hiding them will only hurt your relationship with your son. The best way to get your son on your side is to value what he values.

It is clear that the games aren’t going away, so do your best to enter his world. Get curious about the games, see whether you can play with him and ask him to teach you about their intricacies. I know you may rather watch paint dry, but showing true interest will go a long way in gaining your son’s trust, which leads to good communication (a must for every parent/preteen relationship). We befriend the video games, because we want to help him live with a sort of balance.

Another suggestion: You mentioned he stays in his room. If his gaming system is in his bedroom, this is only going to increase his isolation and “addiction”. Find a way, if you can, to move it into a common area, which will help you connect with him as he plays. This will also keep his room as a place to sleep and rest, and he won’t be tempted by screens when he should be resting.