My kid seems addicted to video games, what do I do?

  • Child Development
  • Health and Wellness
Dr. Sheryl Zeigler

One of the areas of parenting that I see parents feeling most powerless is in the space of all things technology. But nothing seems more powerful for boys these days than the lure video games. In this article, I will share with you a recent session and discussion that I had with a family about this topic and what we did.

Is video game addiction a real thing?

I get asked about video game addiction fairly often. It typically comes as a loaded question filled with either a rationale as to why their kid plays a lot or filled with fear as to what the outcomes of playing games for hours a day will have on their child. However, since September of 2017, I have been asked specifically about Fortnite Battle Royale, as parents notice that there seems to be something unique about the experience of playing this particular game.

There are a few main issues that I want to address about Fortnite itself since it is a phenomenon like one the world has not experienced before. First, there are over 200 million registered players and counting. So, most children, in some way or the other, have exposure to the game. Even for the kids who do not play, they hear all about the running through fields, exploring caves and forests and eventually the killing. Players shoot each other and win only after 99 other players in each game have been killed. While it may not at first appear to be overly violent, the game has a rating of T (for Teen) meaning it’s not suitable for kids under the age of 13. 

Now that I have laid the fundamentals down about the game and it's rating, I want to share with you what I believe is the why behind kid's wanting (sometimes pleading) that they need to keep playing this game. The nature of having to kill other players in order to advance is a huge factor in what looks like addictive video game behavior. This can take hours and within those hours kids are missing out on doing other things like hanging out with real people in person or doing homework. There is also a disturbance of sleep since with increased video game use. Kids who are motivated to advance in Fortnite often play at night or sneak their gaming in when their parents have gone to bed. These lost hours of sleep add up and can have a significant impact on the developing brain as shown by a lack of concentration and irritability.

Further, although the game is technically free, I spend time every month with at least one kid and family talking about how much money they spent on Fortnite, such as for those catchy little dances. I have read some stats that say that upwards of 70% of Fortnite players buy items in the game... so parents beware. It is also "cross-platform" meaning that you can play it on multiple devices, convenient for kids to continue to live in this always on, always available world.

So, you still may be wondering what's the big deal about this game. What is the appeal? Well, let me list the appeal:

- it is colorful and action packed
- it encourages teamwork so being social on it with friends has a lot of perks
- every game is different so it keeps people coming back for more (aka the Vegas effect)

The social aspect of this game is what is actually on of my biggest concerns. Kids are now spending more time inside, in front of screens, "socializing" with their peers and strangers online. The research is consistently showing us that kids need to be outside with their friends. They still need to be running, climbing and making their own real forts. The rates of depression and anxiety among children is alarming and staying indoors playing video games for hours on end is certainly not helpful.

So, what's my bottom line on Fortnite and other video games? I think that with strict time limits and boundaries it can be a part of many kid's childhoods. I certainly remember playing Atari when I was younger and loving it. However, I didn't need strict restrictions then because I wasn't addicted or even compelled to play for that long. The graphics weren't all that great, it was fun for a short while and then I moved on. I didn't connect with friends over chats on gaming devices and therefore if I wanted social interaction I had to go outside and get it.

This is really my bottom line. We are raising a generation of socially starved children who stare at screens for hours on end. If your kids wants to play Fortnite or other video games, you may want to set time limits, disable gaming devices at night and encourage in person social play. Further, protecting sleep comes above all else so gaming shouldn't be done right before bed time as it is activating to the brain. There is a reason that Fortnite, in particular, has broken gaming records with no signs of slowing down. I hope that your child, if they want to, can enjoy it within limits and when they are thirteen or older.

Happy Parenting!



Dr. Sheryl G. Ziegler, Motherhood Maven, is a Doctor of Psychology specializing in children and families, and the founder of The Child and Family Therapy Center at Lowry, a group private practice in Denver, CO. Over the course of over 10 years, Dr. Ziegler has led over 10,000 face-to-face sessions focused on mommy burnout and its related issues, including anxiety, depression, and divorce. 

This article originally appeared in Dr. Ziegler's monthly newsletter. 

"Oxygen Mask on First Please." Mental Health Matters is an upcoming event and safe space where Dr. Sheryl Ziegler will share today's state of women's mental health and what we can do to make a difference in our lives, relationships, careers and parenting. Click here for more info on the Second Act BizCon and Dr. Ziegler's breakout session on mental health.