Managing Your Child’s Self-Control with Video Games

The following case study is an example of the ways that video games can exercise Self-Control skills. The story itself is a variation of one or more patients I have worked with during my years in private practice. Names, places, and other identifying details have been altered or removed.

Jacob, a 12-year-old 5th grade student, has occasional difficulties in finishing his homework. This is particularly true when he needs to write a book report or do any lengthy writing assignment such as making up sentences for his vocabulary words. He can become easily frustrated, sometimes throwing his pencil or crumpling up his paper when he makes a simple mistake. His parents have attempted to work with him on this, but they see the same behavior in other places.

Recently, they decided to take Jacob’s video game privileges away from him. He was playing his favorite video game, Prince of Persia, and was having difficulties navigating his way through areas in each of the worlds. He found himself getting lost, and at one point he began using foul language. Unable to control his anger and be patient with the video game; Jacob threw his controller across the room.

While Jacob was very upset about his parents taking away his video game privileges, this incident served as a breakthrough experience for him. His parents had a series of discussions with him about the need for more Self-Control, not only when he was playing video games, but when he was doing his homework, when his younger sister was bothering him, or when his older brother was teasing him. The discussion turned out to be a great opportunity for Jacob to recognize that part of why he liked to play Prince of Persia was that it was a difficult game for him, and that when he was successful, he felt a sense of achievement. He actually acknowledged that he sometimes felt that same type of achievement when he was able to write a good book report or got his vocabulary homework done successfully.

The challenge of video games presents a double-edged sword. On the one hand, kids tend to like video games that challenge them and require increasing levels of mastery and skill; yet at the same time, these games can be very frustrating. However, video game players almost universally choose to play the more challenging, difficult games because they enjoy the sense of accomplishment and improvement. Helping a child to be able to apply this same motivation to master a challenge in the academic, social, artistic, or athletic world is a goal that most parents share. You may find that discussing your child’s efforts (and frustrations) while mastering video games and other technologies can help him to better apply Self-Control skills to other challenges he will face.

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