Video Gaming Needn’t Ruin Your Family Travel Vacation
Family Trip

Video Gaming Needn’t Ruin Your Family Travel Vacation

If you are concerned about a vacation being spoiled by a family member’s excessive attachment to video games, it may be wise before your next trip to listen to the insights and advice of Alok Kanojia, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and video game expert.

Children with video-game addictionsare often not present or unable to enjoy vacations,” says Kanojia, the founder of Healthy Gamer, an online platform that aims to help gamers by providing “affordable” mental health resources. “They are oftentimes on phones or with portable gaming devices.”

Addicted gamers “dopamine circuitry can be impacted, resulting in some degree of anhedonia, an inability to enjoy pleasurable activities on vacation,” he explains. “They are often withdrawn from the family on vacations and preoccupied with gaming.”

Kanojia knows all about preoccupation. He is a lifelong gamer and recovered gaming addict who says his expertise in psychiatry “can help the internet generation live fulfilling and healthy lives.”

Video-game addiction “is characterized by playing video games to the extent of causing impairment in daily life,” he explains. An addict plays an “excessive amount” of video games that negatively impacts academic life, professional life, relationships or one’s physical or mental health.

Video-game addiction rates are increasing rapidly — from about 6% of people under age 18 10 years ago to 9%-10% today, Kanojia says.

“Some studies estimate rates as high as 21%,” he adds. “It has been declared a public health emergency in South Korea and China.”

Kanojia observed video-game addiction during the most recent Thanksgiving holiday when he was camping and met a family involved in fun outdoor activities. A son was constantly glued to a phone or portable gaming device and didn’t participate.

How should family members respond to such a scenario?

“Our approach at Healthy Gamer starts with first understanding how video games affect your child’s brain and psychology,” Kanojia says. “Next, I’ve learned as an addiction psychiatrist that no one can force sobriety on someone else. The person must want to develop a healthy relationship with gaming. The crux of the problem is that it is usually parent versus child plus video game. What we encourage is communication and alliance building so that it is parent plus child versus video game.”

To achieve that, Kanojia says, “ask the child non-judgmentally: What do you like about gaming? What do you think about your gaming? What are the benefits of gaming? What are the costs of gaming? Do you think you would be happier and would your life be better in any ways if you gamed less?”

Most gamers realize but “are loathe to admit,” he says, “that games aren’t fun if you play for eight hours at a stretch. And most kids know they are falling behind in some way. The problem is they can’t admit it, because parents will use this as ammo to take the game away. So, talk to your child without consequences. Let a child know upfront that nothing from these conversations will result in games being taken away. And, lastly, develop healthy boundaries.”

The thrust should be placing responsibility on a child to fulfill his or her core duties, Kanojia says.

“We’re not taking the game away,” he explains, “but we expect a 3.0 GPA. If you can’t do that, no game. We want to create a system in which access to the game is dependent on the child’s behavior. The child chooses whether to play or not based on behavior.”

On a long-distance airline flight, should parents limit the the amount of time a child plays video games?

Devices on long flights can entertain for a while but will often lead to more crankiness and difficulty, especially toward the end of flights,” Kanojia says.

He recommends parents try to delay usage of devices as much as possible and inform a child before the flight that there will be no usage for the first two hours. Parents should plan other in-flight activities, such as watching a movie, but also allow time for gaming, he says.

Any advice for long drives on vacation in automobiles?

Kanojia recommends the same strategies as those for in-flight trips but provides additional advice.

Try to think about breaks, especially with teenage children,” he says. “They can do their own research on where to stop, where to eat. Involve them with the planning, give them power and responsibility.”

Kanojia suggests taking advantage of gaming opportunities that arise during a family trip. Visit a LAN cafe, see a professional esports event or even play a game with your child, he says.

“You don’t want to be anti-gaming but rather healthy gaming,” Kanojia says. “When pro-gaming suggestions come from a parent, they can do wonders for the parent-child relationship. It demonstrates that the parent isn’t anti-gaming but is simply setting healthy habits.”