If you’re worried about a vacation being spoiled by a family member’s over-connection to video games, it might be wise to listen to the insights and advice of Alok Kanojia, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and video game expert, before your next trip.
Children with video game addiction “are often absent or unable to enjoy vacations,” says Kanojia, founder of Healthy Gamer, an online platform that aims to help gamers by providing “affordable” mental health resources. “They’re often found on phones or with portable gaming devices.”
In addicted gamers, “the dopamine circuitry can become compromised, leading to a degree of anhedonia, an inability to enjoy pleasurable activities while on vacation,” he explains. “When on vacation, they are often withdrawn from the family and busy playing.”
Kanojia knows all about employment. He’s a lifelong gamer and recovered gambling addict who says his expertise in psychiatry “can help the internet generation live fulfilling and healthy lives.”
Video game addiction “is characterized by video game play interfering with daily life,” he explains. An addict plays “excessively” video games that negatively impact academic life, professional life, relationships, or physical or mental health.
Video game addiction rates are increasing rapidly — from about 6% of people under the age of 18 10 years ago to 9% to 10% today, Kanojia says.
“Some studies estimate rates as high as 21%,” he adds. “A public health emergency has been declared in South Korea and China.”
Kanojia observed video game addiction during the recent Thanksgiving holiday when he went camping and met a family involved in fun outdoor activities. A son was constantly glued to a phone or portable gaming device and did not participate.
How should family members react to such a scenario?
“Our approach at Healthy Gamer starts with first understanding how video games affect your child’s brain and psychology,” says Kanojia. “As an addiction psychiatrist, I’ve learned that no one can force sobriety on another. The person must want to develop a healthy relationship with gaming. The crux of the problem is that it’s typically a parent-versus-child plus video game. What we encourage is communication and building alliances so it’s parent and child versus video game.”
To do that, Kanojia says, “Ask the child without prejudice: What do you enjoy about play? What do you think about your gaming? What are the benefits of gaming? What is the cost of games? Do you think you would be happier and your life would be better in any way if you played less?”
Most gamers know, but “are reluctant to admit,” he says, “that games aren’t fun when you’re playing eight hours at a time. And most kids know they’re falling behind in some way. The problem is they can’t admit it because the parents are using this as ammunition to take away the game. So talk to your child without consequences. Let a child know ahead of time that none of these conversations will result in games being taken away. And last but not least, develop healthy boundaries.”
The push should be putting a child in charge of doing his or her core duties, Kanojia says.
“We’re not taking away the game,” he explains, “but we’re expecting a 3.0 grade point average. If you can’t, no game. We want to create a system where access to play depends on the child’s behavior. The child decides whether to play or not based on their behavior.”
Should parents limit the time a child plays video games on a long-haul flight?
“Devices on long flights can be entertaining for a while, but often add more craziness and difficulty, especially towards the end of the flight,” says Kanojia.
He recommends parents delay device use as much as possible and inform a child before a flight that there will be no use for the first two hours. Parents should schedule other in-flight activities, like watching a movie, but also schedule time to play, he says.
Any tips for long car rides on vacation?
Kanojia recommends the same strategies as for air travel, but offers additional advice.
“Try to think about breaks, especially with teenage kids,” he says. “You can do your own research on where to stop and where to eat. Involve them in the planning, give them power and responsibility.”
Kanojia suggests taking advantage of the play opportunities that arise during a family outing. Visit a LAN cafe, watch a professional esports event, or even play a game with your kid, he says.
“You don’t want to be anti-gaming, you want to be healthy gaming,” says Kanojia. “When pro-gaming suggestions come from a parent, they can do wonders for the parent-child relationship. It shows that parents aren’t against gaming, they’re just setting healthy habits.”