Have you ever heard of an addict who was cured of his or her addiction because someone limited, but did not eliminate, their access to the substance or behavior in question? No, you have not. Is an addiction to gambling less harmful if the addict is only allowed to gamble five hours a week? No, it is not. The proposition is absurd.
Before I continue, a digression: I am allowed, by law, to call myself a psychologist; therefore, I am a psychologist. However, I am ever-increasingly aware that I do not have much in common with most people in my nominal profession. In this regard, I am of the experienced opinion (38 years) that clinical psychology is more ideology than science, more fad-driven than fact-driven, and that the facts are not impressive. Does several years of graduate school make one a better advice-giver? Is any form of psychological therapy reliably effective? These questions, and many more, remain unanswered to a satisfying degree.
My digression underscores a story recently passed along to me by a highly reliable witness. A psychologist, speaking to a group of North Carolina parents, recommended against taking video game controllers away from pre-teen and teen boys who are obviously obsessed with video games for the very reason that they are obsessed. To be clear: Because playing video games is, according to said psychologist, supposedly harmless and “so very important” to these boys and gaming is their main social activity to boot, the controllers should not be taken away. Again, the proposition is absurd.
In the early 1980s, I publicly asserted (in this column) on the basis of observation alone that video games were addictive. I was generally dismissed, even ridiculed. The ridicule, by the way, came primarily from — you may have guessed it — other psychologists. A growing body of research now confirms my theory. Over the years, hundreds of parents have sought my advice concerning teenage boys (never a girl, by the way) who want to do nothing but play video games. Their grades have plummeted, their personal hygiene has collapsed, they are sullen and do not want to participate in family activities, even mealtimes, they get up in the middle of the night to “game,” and they become threatening toward parents who even suggests that enough is enough.
My advice is always the same: While the boy is in school, confiscate the controller, smash it, and toss the pieces in a dumpster located at least 10 miles from home — and do not ever, under any circumstances, allow one of these nefarious devices back in said household. Without exception, the child has either gone stark-raving insane or he locks himself in his room and won’t come out, sometimes for days; in either event, proving that he is indeed addicted.
It generally has taken several weeks for withdrawal to run its demonic course, after which the child begins to act like, well, a child again. One teen boy, upon discovering that his controller was gone, destroyed his room and would not speak to or interact with family for two weeks. Finally, he thanked his parents, telling them that he felt much, much better and was now aware of the damage he’d been doing to himself. I’ve heard many similar stories of recovery.
Video games are doing many children great harm. The many children in question constitute a significant number of boys in the up-and-coming generation. For these boys to become authentic men, they need to be rescued. They are not going to rescue themselves.