The other night I was watching the show “My Strange Addiction,” and there were some pretty strange addictions out there, such as sniffing baby powder, kissing and loving a car, and eating a deceased spouse’s ashes, to name a few. Alcoholism, drug use, gambling, and overeating are some of the “big” addictions, but what about playing video games, texting, watching TV, and other things that kids and adolescents may do that, in parents’ eyes, may be an addiction?
I am not saying that everything that a person does continuously or constantly is an addiction, but if the “thing” takes up more and more time while other things do not get done, then maybe that “thing” may be seen as an addiction for them.
Withdrawal symptoms, include anxiety, irritability, and intense craving when the target of addiction is missing. How does your child react when he/she cannot play the video game or watch TV? The child may have a temper tantrum. A teen may have one, too, but it may be a little more sophisticated than a child’s tantrum. When children have a tantrum because they cannot do what they want to do it does not mean that they have an addiction. It may mean that there is no balance.
A parent’s job is to help provide balance in the family’s life, as best as possible. How does one provide balance? If a child normally watches about three hours of cartoons on a Saturday morning, then providing balance might mean having the child break up those three hours and be active between the times he or she watches TV. The child may be unhappy and have a tantrum because he/she is not getting their way or able to do what he/she wants, but that is the way it is at times.
We need balance in our own life. Balance can help provide peace when everything around us appears to be chaotic. Yes, watching TV, playing video games, or any other thing can provide a way of escape from reality, which can be an acceptable outlet but again requires balance in order to avoid slipping into addiction.
An often-overlooked element of addiction is its ability to squeeze out more important and pressing responsibilities. For example, spending more time playing video games than doing homework may result in a drop in grades. There may be other problems that arise as well, such as not turning in homework or skipping class; again if the “thing” takes precedence over other important activities, then that thing can be seen as an addiction.
What can a parent do?
- Monitor your child’s time with the particular activity you are concerned about. You may need to make a schedule for when your child can play games or watch TV. Be prepared for an attitude, dispute, or tantrum. Your child is expressing his/her emotions. Your response can be: “You may not like not being able to do _____, but when you have an attitude/tantrum then you are prolonging the time for you to be able to do ______.” This helps your child know that he or she has a choice on how to respond.
- Ask your child if the activity he or she is doing is hurting other areas in his/her life, like school work, chores, and family interactions. He or she will most likely say “No,” but you can ask in a different way. If he/she still says “No,” then you both can come up with a balanced schedule so that the child may be able to see for him-or herself that the “thing” is taking more time than necessary.
- Help your child to be aware of when he/she may be a little more irritated or wanting to do the “thing” more often than not. When he/she is aware of these feelings and behaviors, it can help you both to create more of a balance in both of your lives.
- Think of a replacement for the desired thing. For an example, if an alcoholic used to come home and have a glass of wine each night, he will have to replace that habit with a new one. Your child may not need a replacement, but he or she will need to find a way to have more balance, so that school work, chores, family, and friend time are made a higher priority.
If your child appears to have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, then you will definitely need to get help for your child, beyond the recommendations given here.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kelly Sanders, MFT, therapist in Rancho Cucamonga, California
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