Electronic games can be addicting

Q: Our teenage son is addicted to a specific electronic game. We’re at a loss on how to help him. Do you have any advice or recommendations for us?

Leon Wirth, executive director of Parenting and Youth: Many people consider addiction to be related exclusively to substances like drugs or alcohol, but in reality it can involve anything that is mind- or mood-altering to the point that a person is willing to neglect friends, family and even physical health in order to pursue it. There is now abundant evidence that electronic games have the potential to elicit this kind of addictive behavior.

Here at Focus on the Family, we’ve been receiving an increasing number of calls about computer and video game addiction over the past several years. This has become a serious problem.

Since it can be difficult to address the complex issue of addiction on your own, we’d strongly recommend that you enlist the help of a licensed counselor. Contact Focus on the Family for a free consultation, as well as referrals to qualified professionals in your area.

As your son works with a counselor on issues related to his addiction, there are also some general steps you can take to prevent further harm in the long-term. These include: 1) setting time limits; 2) making sure your son completes all chores and homework before game play; 3) being aware of the content of the games your son is playing; 4) modeling good viewing/gaming habits yourself; 5) suspending play if your son is having difficulty with self-control; 6) monitoring your son’s attitudes and behavior outside of gaming time; and 7) helping him develop interests and hobbies outside of video games.

May God bless you as you walk with your son and help him break the cycle of addiction.

Q: We have a friend who just returned home from Afghanistan. He’s finding it very hard to transition to life at home again. How can we help him?

Jim: It can be incredibly difficult for service members to transition from deployment back to the home front. Your concern for his well-being is admirable.

Author Erin Prater has written extensively about the challenges service members face after deployment. According to her, normal reactions during the first six to eight weeks after a soldier’s return can include irregular sleeping patterns, anger, appetite and weight change, susceptibility to illness, frustration, fatigue, restlessness, hypervigilance, insecurity, anxiety, crying spells, memory lapses, inability to trust, flashbacks and more.

Prater suggests that service members’ spouses can help them through this process by encouraging them to get ample healthy food, rest and exercise, find time for hobbies, avoid the use of illegal substances or excessive alcohol, spend time with friends and family, and if necessary, seek professional help.

You didn’t mention whether your friend is married, but to the extent you’re able, you can play a role in helping him readjust, too. Be willing to spend time with him in a quiet setting, without pressuring him to talk about his experiences unless it is his desire to do so. Yet give him openings and permission to do so if he wishes. Talking things out can be very helpful.

Finally, Prater says that if these symptoms extend beyond eight weeks, or if they’re accompanied by suicidal thoughts, violent behavior and so on, medical and psychiatric intervention may be necessary. Watch for the warning signs, and be willing to come alongside your friend in the same way you would reach out to anyone who has experienced trauma.

Q: My wife and I have been married for 30 years, but we are struggling. We’ve been under a lot of stress over the last year due to finances, and I’ve been unable to find a job. What can I do to show her that I love her and want to make our marriage work? I feel like she has given up hope in our relationship and situation.

Dr. Greg Smalley, executive director of marriage and family formation: I’m sorry to learn of your predicament. As you’ve discovered, unemployment can present formidable challenges to your marriage.

When it comes to finding gainful employment, it may be time for drastic measures. Even if you find a job that seems menial and unfulfilling, it might be necessary to take it for the time being. Also, consider the possibility of relocating. If you have to move, you can look at it as a fresh start and an opportunity for you and your wife to nurture your relationship away from the demands of family and friends.

Indeed, the damage to your marital relationship is of even more pressing concern than your unemployment. You may not feel like it, but go out of your way to have fun and keep things “light” – it’s crucial to keep up your morale while waiting for circumstances to improve. A cheerful, positive attitude will go a long way in a situation like this.

Also, although you may not feel like your finances can handle it right now, I urge you and your wife to seek counseling. You can start with a free consultation with a member of our counseling team here at Focus on the Family, who will also be able to refer you to a qualified professional in your area. Losing a job is hard, but don’t let it rob you of the gift of your marriage. If you and your wife are to weather this storm, you need to be on the same team.