Will Your Gamer Survive in College?
Stop the gaming addiction before you throw away college tuition.
By Melanie Hempe, BSN, Founder of ScreenStrong
Did you know that students with video game overuse habits are in one of the highest risk categories for dropping out of college their freshman year? So, while you are busy focusing on the packing list, be sure to leave one thing behind: the video games.
College is a fun time for young adults to learn new things and get a taste of freedom and independence. But while you’re wondering if your college freshman will ever call home, he’s busy thinking about what electronics he will pack. He is fantasizing about his upcoming “game haven” that will be funded by mom and dad. He is planning on using his graduation money to buy a really big monitor and extra ethernet cable in case the WiFi is lame. His fantasy includes hours of uninterrupted gameplay, late nights and all-nighters with other gamers. Their game play will take place in one of the many “gaming dens” that are all too common on college campuses today (moving all the beds into one room and gaming consoles in another). He is dreaming of endless Fortnite fun with no time limits, chores, family dinners, siblings, or other trivial family obstacles. Does he understand that his game habit puts him in one of the highest risk categories for dropping out his first year of college? No, he does not.
“One of the top reasons for college dropouts in the U.S. is online gaming addiction,” said Federal Communications Commissioner Deborah Taylor in 2008.(1) Studies show that 85% of college boys are game players, and one in eight develops addiction patterns. In a college of 20,000 students (assuming half are boys), 8,500 are game players. That means 1,063 students are at risk. Plus, research has shown a negative correlation between gaming addiction and expected college engagement, GPA, and drug and alcohol violations that occur during the first year in college(2).
Your bright student may not survive his freshman year.
If you have a gamer headed to college, take time to get informed. While your son may occasionally put his game aside for serious studying and healthy activities, the odds are he very well may not. Know that he will likely game more in college than he ever did at home. Know that he may sacrifice social time with real people, deny himself sleep, skip classes, and exchange classwork demands for his gaming.
The peer pressure to game will be great and the temptation to shift his motivation and competition to his game rather than his grades may be more than he can handle even if he was a straight A student in high school.
Tracy Markle, Founder of Collegiate Coaching Services & Digital Media Treatment & Education Center has directly observed a chilling rise in pathological computer gaming among her young adult clients. “When we conduct our initial assessments on new male clients, 75% have some level of computer gaming and/or internet abuse issue that contributes to the original presenting problems such as poor academic performance, difficulty concentrating and social anxieties.”
In addition to these reported problems, Markle points to other indicators of potential gaming addiction problems with college students, such as frequent absences from classes, roommate complaints, social isolation, and calls or emails from concerned parents.
Gaming overuse is “a primary factor in student academics, mental health and social problems on campus,” Markle said. “Technology overuse has a negative impact on student isolation problems, grades, depression, lack of self-care, poor diet, sleep problems and substance abuse.”
What can you do now?
Video game addiction may be legal, common, accepted and culturally approved, but it can be life-altering for many. Take a serious look at your teen’s gaming habit and follow your gut feeling. He doesn’t magically become an adult when he turns 18, he is an apprentice adult and needs your guidance and counsel. It isn’t too late to get him on the right track so that he can experience the best college has to offer!
So before he heads to school, consider these steps:
- First, access the situation. Check the Video Game Addiction Survey to see if your gamer is addicted.
- Start a summer detox. Go cold turkey this summer to see if he can do it. Begin your detox with a no-tech-allowed summer vacation. Make family efforts to designate no tech times during the week and weekend to support his need for family attachment. Have friends over a lot. Require him to get a job this summer. Remember, his gaming habits this summer will transfer smoothly over to college; lots of gaming at home will equal lots of gaming in the dorm.
- Consider a gap year until his gaming is under control. Don’t assume that college will help him outgrow his gaming; gaming addiction is a real physical, chemical, and emotional problem. He may need professional help or even a treatment center. Consider a gap year if you see that he can’t control his gaming at home, and use this year to help him detox and focus. I know that if you are living with an addicted gamer, you secretly want him to grow up and move out of the house. But sending him to college when he is not ready is not a good use of your money or his time. College should be about developing life and career skills, not gaming skills. A full-time job for a year may help him mature and better prepare him for college.
- Strengthen family attachment. Help your college-bound freshman recognize that while he is now legally an adult, he will continue to be part of your family, a family in which members have responsibilities to one another. While parents have a responsibility to support their son or daughter in school to the best of their ability, college students have a responsibility to put in an honest, strong effort.
- Consider the influence of roommates. Does his roommate play video games? Yes, it makes a big difference. If your son’s roommate is a gamer, chances are that they will both play more. Studies show that first-year college roommates have a profound effect on students, and students with gamer roommates tend to study less. This can result in a lower GPA. Help lead this roommate selection process; remember they are not adults yet and they need our help.
- Consider his dorm assignment. Make sure he lives in a freshman dorm where an RA is aware of his gaming issue. If the RA is a gamer, you may not get much help. If he is in a non-freshman dorm, be aware that he will feel pressure from upperclassmen who have already established their gaming habits.
- Pay attention to his packing list. Do not let him pack his game console, large monitor/screen, or his games. However, remember that he can still play all of his games on his laptop and smartphone.
- Don’t fund his game habit. Do not give him money for game subscriptions or high-speed internet in his room. Set limits on his phone data plan to limit large downloads.
- Line up a campus job. College offers a lot of free time. If he can’t control his free time, he needs to get a job. Don’t go light on this. Don’t buy his excuses about not enough time. A busy schedule will help curb a gaming habit but know that it is not a cure.
- Pick out clubs ahead of time. Don’t wait until the first few weeks to think about clubs and extracurricular activities. Like a good coach you will need to make some requirements for getting out and meeting people. Addicted gamers tend to be socially shy, awkward, and isolated. If he has been gaming a long time, he will need help. Gaming can hinder social development.
- No gaming before Thanksgiving. Sound impossible? It may be, but it is a goal to shoot for and may be the best decision of his freshman year.
Here are some signs that a college student gamer may be headed for trouble:
- He doesn’t leave his dorm room for anything but classes or meals.
- He is more concerned about his friends at home instead of making new friends.
- He doesn’t date or talk to girls in person.
- He pays little attention to his hygiene or his living space.
- He spends more money on take-out food and goes to the dining hall less.
- He sleeps less and may take over-the-counter stimulant drugs to stay awake.
- He avoids campus social groups, clubs and study-groups in exchange for more game time.
- He lies to his parents about the amount of time he spends gaming and his low grades.
- He shows signs of depression.
- He only enjoys gaming and has no other hobbies.
Tips to share with your college-bound gamer.
Help your son balance his gaming habit to make the most of his freshman year. Here are a few solutions to share with your gamer:
- Do not game at all for the first month. You will never have another chance to have a good freshman experience, so make the most of meeting as many people as you can, get out and don’t hide behind your game.
- Have a few standard go-to activities to pick up when you are tempted to reach for the game. Keep your running shoes, frisbee or football visible and handy.
- Watch a movie, sports or educational documentary if you are really craving video games.
- Join some clubs right away. Look at what your college has to offer before you arrive on campus and seek out those groups during orientation.
- Do not game in class.
- Hang out with people in-person out of the dorm room away from the temptation of the gaming environment.
- Take some “social” chances. You will never ever have another chance like your first weeks of college, so put yourself out there instead of sitting in front of a console.
- Exercise a lot. Not only is it a good way to meet new people, but it will keep you feel good and keep you off the game.
- Beef up playlists before you head to college so you have your favorite tunes to play in your room.
- Get plenty of sleep. A lack of sleep will make you more prone to reach for the game and slip into other bad habits.
Help him learn to adult.
College tuition isn’t cheap and no parent wants to waste money on a year spent gaming instead of learning. But more important than the financial cost is the well-being of your child. Like a good coach, have the hard conversation that you know is in his best interest. I speak from personal experience as my son dropped out of college because of gaming. Don’t let his story be your son’s story, too.
- NIG, KEANE. “FCC Says Online Games A Leading Cause of College Dropouts.” The Escapist, 10 Dec. 2008, www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/88049-FCC- Says-Online-Games-A-Leading-Cause-of-College-Dropouts.
- Video Game Addiction and College Performance Among Males: Results from a 1 Year Longitudinal Study Zachary L. Schmitt, BA,1 and Michael G. Livingston, PhD CYBERPSYCHOLOGY, BEHAVIOR, AND SOCIAL NETWORKING Volume 18, Number 1, 2015.
- Kem. L. (2005). Gamer addiction: A threat to student success! What advisors need to know Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Game-Addicted-Students.aspx
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.
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