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John Rosemond is America's most widely-read parenting authority! He is a best-selling author, columnist, speaker, and family psychologist.

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Go "cold turkey" to stop teenager's video game habits

In the December 2006 issue of Chronicles magazine, retired professor of history Clyde Wilson (University of South Carolina) writes “Anyone who has dealt with college students in recent years knows that work is a declining value and practice in America.” If so—and corporate managers have expressed the same sentiment to me on many occasions in the past year—the question that begs is why. The answer, I think, has much to do with a sense of entitlement instilled vis a’ vis radically altered parenting and educational practices. But also involved, I am convinced, is a general addiction to electronic stimulation, including television and video games.

I began to argue in the early 1980s that video games were addictive, and if the research to date is not completely clear on the subject, the anecdotal evidence is compelling, to say the least. More and more parents are refusing to allow their children access to these nefarious devices, but most of the stories that come my way involve children who are already addicted. “What do we do now?” their parents ask, to which I advise the most effective, albeit painful, of all anti-addiction programs: cold turkey. Some parents don’t have the gumption, or I must suppose so because I never hear from them again. But then there are the occasional stories of deliverance, such as the one recently shared by the mother of a 17-year-old “gamer.”

After initially complaining that her son was on the computer “pretty much every waking moment unless he was at school or work,” and after I told her that she needed to take control where he had lost control, she and her husband lost their nerve and cut him back to four hours a day on school days and eight hours a day on weekends. No, seriously. She later admitted “I obviously am a total wimp” and “I feel really stupid about not having much backbone.”

She re-contacted me two months later to tell me that things had gone from bad to worse. When she or her husband tried to enforce the limit, the boy exploded. He pounded furniture, yelled, called his parents names, accused them of being controlling, and maintained that it was his computer and they had no right to limit his playing time. That describes addictive behavior. His mom was in a lot of pain, I could tell. She implored me to give her the strength to take the computer away from him, saying she didn’t know if she could take the ensuing meltdown.

I pointed out that as his parents, they had a responsibility to do what was best for him, whether he liked what they did or not. They wanted to wait until his grades came out to decide whether to take the computer away. I told them one cannot bargain with an addict and win. Take the computer away, I said, and do not ever give it back, even if he begins making straight A’s.

Days later, this email: “We took his computer away. Wow, what a horrible scene. He went on and on, acting like the world was coming to an end, but we stuck to our guns and I feel like a miracle has occurred. The next day, he worked all day and actually went out to dinner with us. The next day, he worked part of the day and was as pleasant and relaxed as can be for the rest of the evening. Today he got home from school and he actually has a friend over. I need to tell you that when we were out to dinner two nights ago he said that although he was initially very angry at what we did, he actually felt kind of relieved. Isn't that wild? I know that there may be some rough patches ahead but I feel like I have my son back.”

I love happy endings, don’t you?

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