Why Do Kids Obsess Over Video Games?

During my recent reading of “Boys Adrift” by Dr. Leonard Sax, I came across a letter that really grabbed my attention. The letter’s author is a 27-year-old doctoral student at Notre Dame — oh, and he’s addicted to video games.

I don’t think you understand the computer game phenomenon when you talk about it sapping the motivation of male 20-somethings. That’s only part of the picture. The other part is that computer games allow people to do things that feel as significant or important as the things they wish they could do in real lifeA teenage boy plays video games. but don’t see any way of doing. I don’t mean that people are playing Battlefield 2 because they wish they could be shooting lots of people. But they do wish they could be doing something that mattered. When they’re playing that game, they can, for a few hours, feel like they’re doing something significant.

When I started grad school, I had a rough first year or so. Many times I came home feeling like I was never going to be any good as a scholar, like I had no hope of ever actually doing anything significant, or making any serious contribution even just in the academic community. But I could turn on the computer and play X-Wing and feel like I was helping to defeat the Galactic Empire. If you want to feel significant, feeling like you just destroyed the Death Star helps for a little while. ….

…[T]here is also in many games beauty and adventure. In Morrowind, you can wander through a really beautiful, detailed, vivid world. Now I prefer reality. But I live in South Bend, Indiana. There aren’t lots of places to hike or even to walk. …

Of course I agree that people should stop wasting time in front of the PC/Xbox and go do something real. But in order to treat a problem it may be helpful to know something about how it seems to those who suffer from it.

Richard R., Notre Dame

From Richard’s letter, we can learn several important things about how to thoughtfully and gracefully talk with our kids about video games:

10 Screen-Free Ways to Have Fun With Your Kids

Ten Screen Free Ways to Have Fun With Your Kids


We have talked before about some “DOs and DON’Ts” of how to peel your kids off the screen. It may seem difficult to help your kids discover fun alternatives to their action-packed video games or TV shows, but it can be done! It will take some intentionality on your part, of course, but making the goal of a memory-filled summer in which relationships are enriched will be worth your time and effort.  Check out this list of ways to have fun with your kids — no screens required!

1. Play with your kids!

Everything listed below will dramatically increase in its value when you do it together with your kids.

How to Peel Your Kids Off the Screen

It’s halfway through the summer, and you’re finding yourself in power struggles over screen time with your kids. Why can’t they simply obey you and get off the TV/video game/internet respectfully — when asked — with no whining, complaining, manipulating, negotiating, or otherwise driving you crazy? A reasonable question, but there are a couple of key complicating factors:

  1. Child glued to TV screenYou’re up against a giant. Your “foe” is a whole industry with incredibly brilliant designers, programmers, and marketers with billions of dollars competing in a race to “capture the eyeballs” of youth. In a famous statement at the height of MTV’s popularity, a spokesman said, “We don’t shoot for the 14-year-olds, we own them.”
  2. Your anxiety and anger is contagious. Because of how powerless parents feel against their children’s screen obsessions, the parents often head into the interaction full of anxiety (“Will my kid ever get a life, or will he just live in my basement playing video games forever?”) and anger (“Why can’t they just obey? I’m sick of this fight!”). If you are anxious, your kids sense it and in some shape or form it spreads to them. This dynamic can quickly spiral out of control.

So how can you overcome those factors to connect effectively with your child? Here are some “DOs and DON’Ts” for the battle of the screens: