5 Reasons to Uninstall Video Games
Is your son binging on video games during the quarantine? Here’s why it’s okay to take the games away.
By Melanie Hempe, BSN, Founder of ScreenStrong
Let’s admit it, sometimes we let the kids splurge. Maybe it’s a cookie before mealtime, an extra piece of cake on their birthday or a late bedtime during vacation. Sometimes the rules need to be bent and exceptions should be made. We do this because we don’t see a long-term risk for our kids.
Video games are not one of those things.
If parents let kids play video games like Fortnite only on a special occasion or every-now-and-then, perhaps there would be no dependency problem. However, games provide instant gratification and a release of the feel-good hormone dopamine. That means our kids don’t want to play every-now-and-then. They want to play all the time. They want the whole bag of cookies every night and they don’t know how to stop the craving.
“This game is so addictive. I am lying to my parents. Skipping school. Staying up all night playing. This game owns me. Exactly like crystal meth or crack. Can’t stop. Have no life anymore. Beware. Battle royale games like this one are dangerous.”
—15-year-old teen talking about Fortnite
Is your son’s gaming getting out of hand? (Note: This piece was written with boys in mind, however, girls have struggles with video games too.) If you are living with a video game-dependent child, this quarantine may put him over the edge and into the grips of addiction. Gaming is up 75% during this pandemic and parents are struggling.
You may be at the end of your rope with broken rules, ignored limits, pushed boundaries, and conflicts. Don’t give up. The truth is that video games are not healthy for every child or teen, and many can’t handle them, especially now with an overabundance of free time.
So let me say seven words that you may need to hear right now: it’s okay to take the games away.
Here are five reasons to uninstall your child’s video game:
Games trigger chemical changes in the brain.
Unlike watching a movie or playing a board game, video games trigger a constant flow of dopamine in the reward center of the brain. With continuous exposure to dopamine, the brain decreases the number of receptors in order to maintain a balance. Now your son needs to play more to get the same good feeling. He is desensitized in a way, the dopamine is not working as well, and this leads to boredom and a craving for more game play and riskier games.
Another reason why video games are hard to stop playing is because they have no natural stopping point. Just like a slot machine, he wants to keep playing if he is winning, and he wants to keep playing if he is losing.
It is never over.
Games are loaded with persuasive design elements.
Many parents remember video games as arcade games from their childhood. These parents get confused because they think their children are playing games like PacMan which are missing compulsion loops and are not as problematic. But developing brains are not built to manage and resist the elaborate scientific persuasive design element found in this generation of video games.
Video games are designed and engineered to keep our kids hooked. The game is programmed to pull them into play with intermittent rewards, then keep them frustrated so they will keep playing. Games are loaded with dopamine triggers, much more than anything that naturally occurs in real life activities. He becomes dependent almost overnight. He can’t help it.
Games replace other activities.
Do you feel like your son’s game is making him lazy? You are not alone. If your teen’s video games are his number one hobby, his taste and appreciation for other activities will diminish. The instant gratification and dopamine producing nature of the game will be more exciting than reading, exercise, playing outside, learning life skills and figuring out how to get along with people. When he binges during the quarantine, it will get worse because he has to play more to get the same good feeling and his withdrawal from the game will be more intense making him cranky and moody. What teen would choose to stop and clean the garage when he is almost winning the game?
In addition, when he plays, the stress chemical cortisol is released which alters his short-term memory center in his brain. He will begin to forget things and become disorganized. All kids crave low-effort, high-reward activities over hard work; and games easily get in the way of hard work and other important life skills.
Games form bad habits.
Video games are not a neutral activity and brain chemicals are altered with each click. Studies show that the brains of teen video gamers look similar to those of addicts. But you don’t need studies, you can observe what happens to your son when you make him get off the game. The drop in dopamine creates a withdrawal effect similar to other addictive activities. With increased game play comes a craving for more game play and rewards, hence the game habit is formed. Watch your child’s gaming habit closely—it will shape his future. Little gamers grow up to be big gamers. Rarely will children outgrow this habit. He will need help from you.
Games change him physically.
Our kids are not designed to be still for hours a day. They should not look pale, weak, or refuse to maintain personal hygiene. Boys especially need to use their muscles so that testosterone levels will develop properly. (1) However, many gamers have stunted muscle development and are physically weak. Is your son’s excessive game play keeping him from developing his body physically to his highest potential? As is true with many things, “if you don’t use it you will lose it.”
Should I remove the game?
Yes, you are free to remove the game just like you would remove the bag of cookies or a drug. Games are not harmless despite the clever marketing from gaming companies. They cause development lags in our kids. You have permission to choose a game-free home; many families have. They have learned that gaming is not a mandatory part of growing up. These families are thrilled to get their sons back. They are not overprotecting, they are providing necessary guidance.
He will binge later if I take it away.
The forbidden fruit myth implies that kids will want to play more video games when games aren’t allowed. But over four decades of research overwhelmingly proves that parents who lovingly set limits have much better outcomes with their children than permissive parents do. (2) When you guide your son toward healthy hobbies and delay addictive games, he will be more balanced. Your child will grow up feeling comfortable with the things that you allow him to do because his brain is forming to his environment. If your child is exposed to addictive activities, he will grow up feeling comfortable with them, which is why 90% of adult addictions are formed before their 18th birthday. The solution is to expose your child to many different activities that you want him to continue, not the ones you want him to stop.
He must play so he can get used to managing addictive activities.
Some parents hesitate to remove the game because they want their kids to learn how to manage these types of temptations. “They will have these temptations the rest of their lives so he needs to get used to it now,” they say. But exposure to addiction makes your child weaker, not stronger, especially before the age of 25 when the frontal cortex is not fully developed. Dr. Leonard Sax says, “Age matters. If a boy starts playing video games when he is 9 or 12 or 14 years old, those games may ‘imprint’ on his brain in a way that they won’t if he starts playing at 18.” (3) One addiction leads to another. The porn industry knows how this works which is why they spend a lot of advertising dollars recruiting gamers as their next generation of customers.
All his friends are on the game, so he won’t have any friends if he doesn’t play.
It is a myth that all boys play video games. If all of your son’s friends are gamers, he should begin to invest in a different friend group. This is where your parenting comes in. Your son’s friends or his video games are never more important than his health and they are never more important than his relationship with you. It will take some work on your end. Because of the quarantine, he’s out of his usual routine, so now is the perfect time to break away and make some changes. We have found that if you can find one or two other families with boys his age to join with you, it is much easier. It is amazing to see what boys can think of when they get creative! Deep down all boys know that gaming is not a real measure of valuable skills and gaming friends are not the same as in-person friends.
Won’t he hate me?
Your son will hate you more if you allow him to waste the next few months or years on meaningless video games. What stories will he remember from the quarantine? The hours he spent on his video game or the memories he made with his family? What a great opportunity you have to get to know your son better! When you make it a priority to choose to spend time with your son and truly care for his well-being, he will not hate you.
If your son has a take-it-or-leave-it attitude about his game, shows no signs of withdrawal when he gets off, is organized, well-rounded and has a good relationship with you, then he is ScreenStrong. However if his game is his primary activity right now and you feel he is headed for more dependency, it is time to make changes. So let me say it one more time: it’s okay to take the games away.
If you know it’s time to remove the video games, we are here to help you. Take our free ScreenStrong Challenge to get started. During the challenge we will guide you through the first week of no video games to give you a glimpse of what life could be like without recreational screens. If you want to rescue your kids from Fortnite and other games, sign up for our free week-long ScreenStrong Challenge. Read The ScreenStrong Solution for tips on removing addictive screens from your kids life.
EXTRA: How to uninstall Fortnite:
- Go to settings
- Select your Library in the left pane, click the settings gear on the Fortnite thumbnail, and select “Uninstall.” Click “Uninstall” to confirm. This will remove the Fortnite files from their original location.
- Press the Windows button on your device or keyboard, or select the Windows icon in the lower-left corner of the main screen.
- Select All apps, and then find your game in the list.
- Right-click the game tile, and then select Uninstall.
- Follow the steps to uninstall the game.
- Be clear that your child can just reinstall it over and over. He can also uninstall it when he is done and then reinstall it every time he plays.
To delete his Fortnite account from Epic:
Open up the epic launcher, click on the library tab, select Fortnite and find the gear symbol and click uninstall
If you delete Fortnite, your stats are all saved in your account cloud. But if you delete your Epic account, then you will delete all progress, purchases, everything. This process is permanent and cannot be reversed.
- George T. Lynn, MA,LMHS, Breaking the Trance. A Practical Guide For Parenting the Screen-Dependent child. (Central Recovery Press, 2016) p. 39.
- Leonard Sax, MD, PhD, The Collapse of Parenting. How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups. (New York:Basic Books, 2016.) p. 139.
- Leonard Sax, MD, PhD, The Collapse of Parenting. How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups. (New York:Basic Books, 2016.) p. 145.
Melanie Hempe, BSN, is the founder and executive director of ScreenStrong, a national nonprofit organization that offers a countercultural approach to eliminate childhood screen dependency, but one that just might save your kids. Melanie has developed cutting-edge programs that empower parents to pause video games and social media for kids and teens through late adolescence. Her three books can be found on Amazon: Will Your Gamer Survive College?, Can Your Teen Survive—and Thrive—Without a Smartphone? and The ScreenStrong Solution: How to free your child from addictive screen habits.
ScreenStrong is committed to rescuing this screen-driven generation, one family at a time.
Photo credit: iStock