Parents battle children’s video game addictions

By Pham Nga   June 2, 2023 | 05:31 am PT
Parents battle children’s video game addictions
People play computer games at an internet shop in Hoi An Town, central Vietnam. Photo by Shutterstock/Minh Duy
Duc Anh and his wife tried every solution they could think of. They installed a surveillance camera in their home and even resorted to beating their son.

Still, they couldn’t prevent him from wasting away his life playing video games. Anh, a 38-year-old resident of Nam Tu Liem District in Hanoi, said he’s tried everything to stop his son from compulsively playing video games.

He promised to give the 12-year-old boy VND50,000 (around $2.13) a day for each day he didn’t touch video games. His son agreed with the deal, but was then caught by his mother in the middle of the night: headphones on, swearing, and pounding the keyboard with his eyes glued to the computer screen.

That night, Anh and his wife Truc beat their son.

The following day, they secretly installed a surveillance camera in their son’s bedroom. With the help of it, they saw their son lying in bed with a blanket over his head playing video games on his mobile phone.

They decided to take his phone away and change their computer’s password. Still, somehow, their son discovered the new password. He waited until Anh and Truc fell asleep, then stole his phone back and played video games until 4 a.m. before he replaced the phone again.

The following morning, after seeing everything in the surveillance footage, Anh and Truc hit their son once again.

After realizing that he could not hide his secret at home anymore, the boy started skipping classes and going to gaming centers near his school to play instead. Finding that out, his parents didn’t allow him to go to school on his own anymore. They took turns taking him to class and handing him over to his teacher in person.

A few days later, just as they thought that they managed to stop their son from his addiction, Anh discovered the boy had a new mobile phone. It turned out the child had secretly used the money in his piggy bank to buy a new phone.

"We could no longer think of any other solutions," Anh said.

Pham Kieu Nguyen, 40, of Hanoi, was once confused about her son’s game addiction as well. Her 8th grade boy used all his free time twitching at his screen. And when the mother tried to help him, her son just seemed to game even more, non-stop, day in day out, 24/7.

"I didn’t know what to do," she said. "The more I tried to prevent him from playing, the more he lied."

On one occasion the frustrated mother even smashed her son’s laptop into pieces when she caught him playing behind her back. But no matter what she did, her son stayed silent.

Doctor Tran Thanh Nam, professor at the University of Education at Vietnam National University, reported that his research showed that around 76% of children played video games "whenever they had spare time."

Some 36.8% of them played games before meals, while about 34.6% did so after meals. Around 3.8% skipped their classes to play video games.

In June 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized game addiction as a disease and listed it on the International Classification of Diseases. The group claimed the illness was dangerous because it could produce serious mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

According to the WHO, as many as 70-80% of children between the ages of 10 and 15 enjoy video games as one of their hobbies. Of these, around 10-15% can be classified as addicted, according to the international body.

Doctor and education expert Pham Thu Huong cited three reasons for childhood video game addiction.

First, the current generation of children have been exposed to computers and mobile phones from a very early age.

Second, parents let their children enjoy their lives without many responsibilities, which makes them bored and leads them to video games as a means of entertainment.

Last, parents do not take actions to prevent their children from growing addicted over time.

No normality

Anh admitted that he indeed didn’t usually take good care of his son. When the Covid pandemic broke out, he worked late every day and let his pregnant wife take care of their small son on her own while she was also operating a small online business.

The couple’s son was suddenly less supervised. He had to learn how to be more independent with his studies and daily life.

Not being able to go out with his friends, having to sit in front of the screen all day to study remotely during lockdown, he started playing games. Only when his academic performance and physical health began to suffer – he only ever seemed motivated by the thought of returning to his bedroom after meals – did his parents become concerned.

"After everyone’s lives went back to normal [post-lockdown], my son was not normal anymore," Anh said.

Ironically, Nguyen said her son used to be the most aware member of her family in terms of the possible health detriments of too much screen time.

However, things changed when he was in grade 6. Nguyen changed her job around that time, and her new job required her to travel frequently on business, which made it impossible for her to have regular conversations with her son. He then gradually turned to video games.

Nguyen and her son. After realizing that her education methods were ineffective, she changed her attitudes and became more willing to talk to her son. Photo courtesy of Nguyen

Nguyen and her son. After realizing that her game-prevention methods were ineffective, she changed her attitude and became more willing to talk to her son. Photo courtesy of Nguyen

Doctor and education expert Vu Thu Huong claimed that pinpointing exactly why a child is addicted to online gaming is a must in order to come up with viable solutions. Punishments, bans, and exercising "control" on the part of parents can often make the already serious conflict even worse, according to Huong.

Education expert Nguyen Le Thuy, from the Youth and Kids Skill Development Center, agreed with this viewpoint.

"It’s like when you throw a rubber ball against a wall: it will come back to you," she said.

"Try to be calm but determined," Dr. Huong said. "Parents can help their children establish new habits and hobbies, so that the kids don’t prioritize video games anymore."

In order to do so, Huong believes that parents should spend more time with their children.

After consulting with experts, Anh and his wife rearranged the whole family’s schedules. Their son’s schedule was filled with classes, entertainment activities and volunteer projects.

"I let him play games that we mutually agreed upon for one hour every weekday and two hours every day on weekends, instead of fully banning them," he said.

Nguyen reduced her workload and switched to listening to her son instead of arguing. She allowed her son to use his laptop on a daily basis, but with "terms and conditions."

"I treated my son and myself with more kindness," she said. "Now I only sit beside him and give him advice, instead of prohibiting things."

Now, although her son hasn’t completely dropped video games, he has learned how to control the amount of time he spends gaming.

The adjustments have gradually eased his mother’s worried mind.

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