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My Son’s Game Playing is Making Him Aggressive

I saw the following request for help on-line and feel it is important to address it and the responses offered by other parents: 

“I’m a parent of two lovely kids. One boy and a girl. My boy, aged  11 is obsessed with video games. He plays this game called “Fortnite?” and “Grand Theft Auto”. From these two games he has become extremely aggressive towards me and his games, He is destroying multiple controllers and headsets. He is also using terrible language. Feeling concerned. What can I do?”

We all need to be cautious about internet advice. It is often limited by what people know about video games. So I felt it important to address each piece of advice offered and present a different perspective. 

 “If he doesn’t mind you, take his game away.” Because the control of the game is so powerful, taking it away will be perceived as punitive and result in even more anger. Users are not rational enough because of the addictiveness of the device. It also will not teach the child to manage the device. Children need to learn how to break the addictive loop built into each game. Though some games are okay, the ones that keep users overly engaged are the ones students need training to manage. 

Smash it with a sledge hammer. Several parents suggested this type of solution, but using violence to cure violence doesn’t work, and removing the devices will not cure the reason the child is so drawn into playing for hours.

Again, sorry you’re experiencing this. I trust it will pass and I wish you all the strength and clarity you need to get through it with him. Unfortunately, the draw of the device is so strong, it will not pass voluntarily. There needs to be some education about how the device is designed to hack the engagement. Like cigarette smoking, we can hope the pull of the cigarette will pass, but the nicotine addiction gets stronger and only lessens if total withdrawal is achieved. Total withdrawal of device use is not in our children’s future, so management strategies need to be taught at a very young age.

Setting non-negotiable boundaries will be key, particularly around how long he’s playing. Once students understand what is happening neurologically to them when they play a game, it is possible for the student to be taught how to manage their own devices. It is not easy because of the addictive nature inherent in the games, therefore, just setting boundaries is ineffective.  

Tell him to buy his own controllers and headsets. That will teach him to chill. Unfortunately, the games create a chemical reaction that makes children react without control. Having them purchase the item might make them think twice about how they respond to frustration, but they will be better served by teaching them how to tap into the emotions the game is creating in them. The games are designed to excite them, which results in all sorts of strange behaviors. Understanding why they react the way they do, tapping into the feelings they are experiencing, and then applying strategies that will help break the chemical draw is the only way to deal with such outbursts. 

Use the game to teach him manners, or else he is going to develop emotional instability that will may make him have social misfit. The behaviors resulting from game playing can not be handled the same way we would handle common misbehaviors in children, because they are chemically induced. The children are responding much like a drug addict and need to be treated as such. The game makers deliberately program the games to release the same chemical reaction in the brain as illegal drugs. We can’t say to a drug addict, “You need to watch your manners,” because they don’t have control while they are under the influence. So asking children to manage their behavior after using the games is challenging, because they have no control. The brain is in control. It’s craving the feel good feeling the game gives it. 

Before we put children on devices, they need a lot of education about how the devices work. Empowering students with knowledge and then offering strategies for managing devices so they can control their own use and not let the device control them is what is desperately needed today. 

Tips to breaking the control:

  1. Explain the motives of many game makers. They need their players to continue playing so they can sell items either to use in the game or by promoting other people’s products.  So, they create a game that makes it difficult to stop playing. Game makers are more concerned with making money than how their games change the brains of users. 
  2. They prey on children and young adults to get them hooked at a young age.
  3. They make sure players feel like winners just enough to keep them playing.
  4. They need to make a commitment to control their own playing, by setting a timer for 20 minutes of play.
  5. Once the timer goes off, no matter what, they are to close the game at the sound of the buzzer, even if you haven’t finished a level.
  6. They then close their eyes and see what they notice in their bodies. They are to check their heart rate.
  7. They are to wrap their arms around their own body and give themselves a deep hug. 
  8. As they do this, they slowly take deep breaths as they count to ten. 
  9. When their heart rate slows down, they are to notice how they feel. Are they calmer? They are to keep doing slow deep breathing until they feel completely calm.
  10. Prepare them that they may feel a pull to play again, because their brain will crave the chemical release it received from the game. 
  11. Tell themselves, “I will control my game playing and the game will not control me!” 
  12. Make sure they know they need to give themselves double the amount of time to rest their brains after playing a game before they try to do homework that requires concentration or before they go to bed. The game robs their brain of chemicals that help them concentrate and sleep deeply. Allowing the adequate time for the brain to rest will assure they can give their best and get the type of sleep that will help them remember what they learned that day. If they don’t allow the brain rest, studying will be less effective and they will disrupt the sleep pattern that allows for the proper storage of information learned that day and make retrieval much more difficult in the future. Sleep is crucial in memory retention. 
  13. Have students keep a diary of activity and how they felt at the end of the day. They need to note if they felt agitated or calm. They should answer the following questions to help in their journaling: Did they have difficulty staying focused? Did they get good sleep and were able to remember what they learned the day before? Could they handle challenges easily or did they frustrated easily? Did they find themselves wanting to play the game? How many times did they feel this urge? After keeping a journal for two weeks, many students will decide they feel better when they don’t play, so they schedule their play for weekends only. Some have decided that Saturday is the only day safe to play, because Sunday won’t require concentration. A fourth grader, t realized he couldn’t have his computer in his room because it would call to him in the middle of the night. To stop himself from playing, he gave it to his mother and said, “I think I need you to keep this in your room when I go to bed, because then I won’t be able to play at 1am.” The impact of device use is different for each student, so journaling helps them see what their unique experience is and what they have to do personally to manage the devices themselves. 

Thirty years ago, I began receiving phone calls about students flunking out of their freshman year of college because they were never taught how to manage their Nintendo use. Today, the devices are more portable and present even a bigger challenge to all users. There is no way to truly get away from devices today. There is so much that we need to teach children about the use of their devices before we hand it to them. My book 10 Digit Dangers – A Warning to Parents  offers a perspective on what lies within our devices and how help your children manage them. 

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