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Helping Children Maintain Balance and Avoid Addiction

A boy sits in a chair playing a Gameboy with total concentration showing on his face.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?

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kelly Sanders, MFT, Child & Adolescent Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Bezek

    May 31st, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    Too much of any one thing is bad for you, you know? It has been said that everything is fine when done in moderation and I firmly believe in that. If you take anything to the extreme then there is a problem that needs to be resolved. I see far too many adults and kids with electronic devices constantly going- on the phone at restaurants, kids playing with ipods and phones and games everywhere they go. What happened to reading and conversation? Sadly much of that has fallen to the wayside and I am struggling to believe that we will ever be able to get any of that back. I wish that more parents would take this time to realize that this is a big problem and that the only way we can get rid of the problem is to shut off the devices and begin talking to each other again.

  • Cason

    May 31st, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    I know that there are times when kids use their gadgets too much, but come on! Don’t we want them to be up on the latest and newest technology? That’s the only way we are going to get ahead in this world. If they don’t know all about all of the technology that is available, we will never continue to make the progress that is needed.

  • EM

    June 1st, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    note to parents:

    the last time i checked it is perfectly within your rights to restrict the use of said objects by your kids, send them outside to play, and determine whether or not they are old enough to manage the responsibilities that go along with having these gadgets

  • Leila U

    June 2nd, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    If my kid is jonesing for the ds or the wii, then the time to disconnect is now!

  • Larkin

    June 2nd, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    I will admit that I am just as addicted to my own gadgets as some of the kids today are. I die if I leave home without my smartphone, It makes me feel like I have lost touch with everything going on in the world around me.

    But why does keeping up have to be bad? If I feel disconnected without them, then shouldn’t I subside that little anxiety and just commit to having it with me?

    Of course it does not consume my entire day, and I can carry on a concversation. But this is kinf od the sign of the times in my eyes, and I am not going to get left behind.

  • Sue

    June 4th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    With kids I have a hard time seeing this as an addiction.
    I see it more as a way for a mom and dad to give them anything which keeps them from having to have too much to do with them.
    That sounds bad? But I think it’s true.

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