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Episode 75: A School Psychologist Talks About Video Game Addiction

Is your child spending too much time playing video games? Is video game addiction a real problem among kids and teens today?

On this episode of the Supercast, we talk to school psychologist, Dustin Fullmer who actually teaches a video game addiction class at the Jordan Family Education Center. It is a class that is more popular than ever before as parents try to figure out if video gaming has become an unhealthy habit for their own children and what can be done to turn things around.


Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Hello and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. Is your child spending excessive time playing video games? Is video game addiction a real problem among kids and teens? Today on this episode of the Supercast, we talk with school psychologist, Dustin Fullmer, who actually teaches a video game addiction class at the Jordan Family Education Center in Jordan School District. It's a class that's more popular than ever before as parents try to figure out if video gaming has become an unhealthy habit for their own children.

Anthony Godfrey:
All right, we are here at Joel P Jenson Middle School to talk with some students about how they feel about video games or which video games they like best and what they like about them. Tell me your name please.

Student:
I'm Landon.

Anthony Godfrey:
Landon. What video game do you play the most right now?

Student:
Definitely Minecraft.

Anthony Godfrey:
Minecraft. Now that's a very creative game. What do you like about playing Minecraft?

Student:
Mainly party games on it.

Anthony Godfrey:
Just tell me a little bit more about that.

Student:
Well, Minecraft is a survival game, explore someone's creativity and challenge one's survivability. So last deal on a Minecraft so far is called high pixel. I spent 700 hours on a single game mode.

Anthony Godfrey:
700 hours.

Student:
Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:
Are there some things that you didn't get to do because you were doing Minecraft?

Student:
Not really.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. So how did it feel after doing 700 hours of Minecraft?

Student:
Like about halfway through, I got phone down, so I stopped playing full volume.

Anthony Godfrey:
How many hours would you say you play in a day?

Student:
Three.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. So you just consistently play and after the 700 hours, did you get to where you wanted it to be in Minecraft? Did you accomplish what you were hoping to accomplish?

Student:
Most of India.

Anthony Godfrey:
What do you like most about playing video games?

Student:
It's an escape from reality.

Anthony Godfrey:
All right. Tell me your name.

Student:
I'm Brandon.

Anthony Godfrey:
Brandon, what video games do you play most?

Student:
Well, I usually like to play on my phone. I like to play Geometry Dash a lot.

Anthony Godfrey:
Geometry Dash. I haven't heard of Geometry Dash. Tell me about that.

Student:
Well, it sounds like a math game, but it's honestly really not. Basically, you're this cube and you jumped over spikes and it's a game of rhythm and timing and memorization.

Anthony Godfrey:
So jumping in, avoiding things, actually matches up with some of the video games that I used to play back in the 1900s. Have you ever heard of Pitfall?

Student:
No. I don't think I have.

Anthony Godfrey:
How about Activision?

Student:
I've heard of it.

Anthony Godfrey:
I think that's like a video game company. It's very well done. And how about Atari?

Student:
I've heard of that.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. Yeah. I used to play Atari and Pong. Have you ever played Pong?

Student:
No.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. I need to bust out some Pong because I still have my old one from the 1970s. Do your parents play video games at all?

Student:
No. My friends don't play video games, as far as I know at least.

Anthony Godfrey:
So maybe undercover of night, after you're in bed, they sneak down and play your MLB games?

Student:
No, I don't think so.

Anthony Godfrey:
It's probably too confusing for them. All right. We wouldn't want parents to be too confused. All right. Thank you very much. What's your name?

Student:
Maricio.

Anthony Godfrey:
Maricio. What video games do you like to play?

Student:
Survival games like Tommy Gaze, kind of survival games.

Anthony Godfrey:
That's a whole kind of category. Tell me, what are some of the survival games that you play at the last of us?

Student:
It's kind of an apocalypse game. You have to go complete the mission and they give you obstacles.

Anthony Godfrey:
Do you have to fight by many means some enemies? So fighting zombies, much like just day to day life in junior high.

Student:
Sure.

Anthony Godfrey:
Have you ever heard of Big Duck?

Student:
Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:
You have heard of Tick Tack?

Student:
Yeah, I play a lot of old things.

Anthony Godfrey:
Really. Have you played Big Duck?

Student:
Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:
And do you enjoy blowing up a little lizard dragons as much as I do sometimes?

Student:
Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:
Do you ever play video games with your parents?

Student:
Old games sometimes. They don't play video games too much. They usually work and stuff.

Anthony Godfrey:
So what's your name?

Student:
McKay.

Anthony Godfrey:
What video games are you playing these days?

Student:
I like to play shooter games. So for example, like Rainbow Six Siege and like Overwatch. They're two different kinds of games, but one is more like you help out your teams complete a task and one's more current.

Anthony Godfrey:
Do your parents ever play Overwatch or watch you play?

Student:
My dad. My dad's family is more like on the video game side, but my mom was kind of against it.

Anthony Godfrey:
What do you like about playing the game?

Student:
I like that you can just make up tactics to go through any type of building, like go through the side, go through below them or on top and that you can just find different ways to get through and escape from that.

Anthony Godfrey:
So you liked the strategy and problem solving that's involved.

We're here talking with Dustin Former, School Psychologist at Copper Hills High School, who will be about video game addiction for the timely topics series available at the Jordan Family Ed Center. Dustin, thanks for joining us.

Dustin:
It's great to be here.

Anthony Godfrey:
We talked on podcast about the Jordan Family Ed Center, and I just couldn't resist when I heard that someone gave a presentation on video game addiction. I couldn't resist talking with you and asking about that because it seems to be much more prevalent than it was pre-pandemic. Are you noticing that?

Dustin:
Yeah, across the board, I'm noticing a lot more dependency on technology. In general, we're all kind of forced to. Well, here I am, talking to you virtually in front of my computer screen. We're all kind of forced to be a little bit more dependent on technology these days. But with that, there's a big rise of addiction to every single aspect of technology, especially video games.

Anthony Godfrey:
When you think about video game addiction, do you first just think about addictive behaviors in general to start with?

Dustin:
Definitely. And that's what I tried to make very clear in the course or the presentation that I give to parents is that in order to understand what's going on with video gaming addiction, we need to understand addiction itself, what exactly that is because video game addiction isn't really any different from any other type of addiction.

Anthony Godfrey:
So what are some of the characteristics of addiction that would be universal?

Dustin:
So it's important to focus on the fact that anything can be addicting. I was joking around earlier with some people, just that anything, even healthy things such as working out or reading or anything like that, can become addictive. And what that really leads to is understanding that when some sort of habits or some sort of a task that you do too much to the point of becoming dependent and to the point of it disrupting life activities, such as taking care of yourself, eating, sleeping, or doing things like your job or in the case of kids, their schoolwork. And so that's when something becomes addictive.

Anthony Godfrey:
What would you suggest to parents to help prevent this from happening in the first place? Say that their child has been playing more and more lately and they're worried about things getting out of hand.

Dustin:
I would say that it kind of goes with the whole saying of that best time to plant a tree is 300 years ago. The second best time is right now. If you're going to introduce video games into a kid's life, as soon as you do that, set limitations, set expectations as to what that should look like. If you just buy the new X-Box or new PlayStation or get them hooked up on online gaming through the computer and then just say, have at it, it's inevitably going to lead to problems. Most likely kids are really bad at regulating and that's a proven fact. And so, as soon as you introduce video games into a kid's life, set expectations, say, you can have this, it's going to be a fun thing for you. However, we need to limit how much time we're doing it, or you can only play it after you've finished all your homework and I've double checked on that. Some sort of boundary to set right from the get-go. If a kid has already been playing and you now want to do that once again, it's great to have that conversation of what do you think is reasonable? Let's set some boundaries, let's set some expectations,

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. To use it as a reward, does that create more problems or can that be an effective way of containing video game time?

Dustin:
I feel like rewards or PR are great. And when it comes to rewards for expected behaviors, it's whatever is motivational to the kid. You know, one kid may be motivated by outdoor play. One kid may be motivated by immediate video games and so if that's the motivation you can find, you know, if you do all your chores, I'll give you additional time on the system to play your games today, then that's great. I don't see it as being bad. Of course, once it comes to the point where the kid is constantly trying to wager and do those addictive-type behaviors, where there's an obvious dependency, then he might need to cut back. I would say off the top of my head, rewards are a great thing to do no matter what they are.

Anthony Godfrey:
Now, when you said wagering, I want to talk about that because that's something that my son does quite a bit of. I'm not labeling him an addict. However, it seems that whenever I say, okay, you got 30 minutes to play this game, invariably, when I come in after 30 minutes, he says I'm right in the middle of this, I just need 10 more minutes to finish this. And so there's always some other portion of the quest or phase of the game that must be finished before he ends his game. Do you have any advice on that because there's always a bargain being struck when time is up.

Dustin:
Right. A huge emphasis that I go through with my presentation is understanding video games a little bit better and like makes them addictive as well as trying to be involved in some way. And so to answer that, I would say, a big part of it is even understanding the game that your child is playing. And so it's a constant meme, all the time online that I see where kids are making fun of parents, coming in and saying, pause your game. It's all online, I can't pause it. And you know, it's just kind of a constant thing where parents just don't seem to understand. And so we find ourselves always bargaining at the end of it. It's like, okay, it's been 30 minutes it's time. And they say, Oh, but I just need to do one more thing. Do they really? Is it something where they could legitimately just save the state of their game right then and there and walk away? Or is this something where they really are in the middle of a match and maybe we just let them finish it out. Right? So it's about better understanding the game so that you can be more informed as you regulate the time. Right?

And so let's say I do set a time on somebody and they're playing Fortnite online with their friends. And if I find that in the 29th minute, there's trying to start a new match, I might say, okay, you know, time is up. You have less than a minute left. These matches can take anywhere from five to 20 minutes each. How about you stop right now, versus if somebody is playing just a single player game by themselves, where there's the ability to save the game at any given moment and it's possible, then I know I can let them play up until the 30th minute and say, okay, pause, save, let's turn it off.

Anthony Godfrey:
Stay with us more on video game addiction. When we come back, find out about the signs to watch for in video game addiction.

Break:
If you're ready to start your child on the path to personalized learning, we are ready to help. The Jordan Virtual Learning Academy is coming to Jordan School District in the 2021-22 school year. Three new schools will be opening as part of the Academy, Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary School, Kelsey Peak Virtual Middle School and Kings Peak High School. Each school will have their own principal and teachers and each will give students a choice in their own learning. The schools will offer synchronous learning, which is teachers providing real-time, live online instruction and asynchronous learning, where teachers provide videotaped instruction for learning on a student's schedule. To register your student in the Jordan Virtual Learning Academy, visit http://connect.jordandistrict.org

Anthony Godfrey:
We visited earlier about what makes a video games addictive and that understanding that can help us moderate trial engagements with those games. Can you describe some of that?

Dustin:
Sure. So anything that is addictive meets some sort of need in our lives and things like video games that don't necessarily have a chemical addiction, but an addictive property to them. What is it that something about them will trigger the pleasure center in our brains and that can become addictive in and of itself? And so with video games, they have a whole bunch of different things that can make them interactive and addictive. A lot of the developers know what those things are and we'll try to put them into their games even more so. And some examples include things such as the endless side quests in missions.

So for example, a really popular series out there is The Assassin's Creed Series, and those games have become larger and larger with open-world areas. And you'll get a main quest that will tell you that you need to go from point A to point B, but then along that straight line, you'll find that in order to get to point B, you also need to go to point C, D, E, and F, all the way through Z, in order to actually ever get to point B. And so it's just kind of this endless side-quest kind of thing that can become addictive where it's just one more thing I gotta do.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay.

Dustin:
One more thing I got to do, and that's something that I capitalize quite a bit on and something that makes The Fortnite super addictive. It's something called the Twitch principle where it kind of triggers those fast reflex impulses, so if you want, if you were to watch an online match of professional Fortnite players, you would have no idea what's going on because these buildings are popping up and being deconstructed and people are jumping and shooting and everything is going on so fast.

And then the guy ends up losing the match. You have no idea how, and he gets super frustrated because he was this close to winning. So then he starts up a whole other match and needs to get that win, doing the same exact stuff. And so it's just that, you're just so close, and that's how it hooks you. It's really similar to the slot machine principle where I know if I were just to give it one more pull, I'm going to get that jackpot. Oh, it didn't come, just in one more. Cherry cherry bar. Yeah. I almost got there. I just need one more. Yup. And so it's that exact same principle where you just keep getting that close and you just need to keep going.

Anthony Godfrey:
How do you know when your child is addicted to video games?

Dustin:
It's a hard thing to really measure, but it's about looking for different behaviors that indicate a kid is starting to have a dependency on video games, where they're constantly thinking about it. If they're not playing video games, they're worrying about when they'll get another chance or they're putting things off. Maybe they're waking up in the middle of the night so they can get one more match, one more game, one more level, or they're putting off other things.

Maybe they were a really good student before or maybe just a good enough student before and now suddenly they're failing or having really bad grades because instead of doing anything school-related, they have to get on the computer or get on the system and be playing. So once it starts to become an obvious dependence or it's a disruption to things that they should be doing, that's when it starts to become a serious sign of possible addiction.

Anthony Godfrey:
When it disrupts the normal flow of daily life, then that's when you have a problem.

Dustin:
Exactly.

Anthony Godfrey:
Yeah. So let's start with what you do once you see it's happening. Let's say that you're there. Some parent that's listening is thinking, you just described my child. What do you recommend that point?

Dustin:
The number one thing I can recommend to any parent is communication when it comes down to it, with any kind of addiction. But especially when it comes to technology and video gaming. It's about having communication with your child and figuring out what exactly you can do to help them. A lot of the times I would say that kids are very well aware of this issue. If it's to the point where they're completely ignorant of the fact that they are having these problems, then it's a little bit more work, but communication is the first thing to do. Be able to talk to them openly about what you're seeing, and then talking to them about maybe limitations that you can put into place. If you just start limiting things automatically, start taking things away, start limiting time. It's honestly going to backfire and kids are gonna find ways around things that you do if they truly are addicted. But if you involve them in the process, have them give input as to how you can limit things, maybe goals to set after you do X, Y, and Z, then you can have this amount of time on the system. Those are the best first steps to take. Anything you do that doesn't involve the kid is definitely going to backfire.

Anthony Godfrey:
That makes a lot of sense. And I can picture that conversation even. Do you feel like you're playing too many video games and that that's getting in the way of daily life? And if they can admit that then they're at one stage and if they can't, then that's an entirely different problem altogether. It makes sense to start with those restrictions. Do you gradually make those restrictions more and more strict and reduce the time more and more? Where do you go from there once there's agreement that there's a problem and that you agree on some parameters and some goals and rewards.

Dustin:
That's a really good question because it kind of depends on the situation with the kid. If it's to the point where it's that kid where you bring up, it seems like you're having a problem with it and they deny it and they don't see a problem. Then that's usually when you would want to start off more strict at first, maybe even getting to the point of completely unplugging. One of the hardest things though, if you start setting these strict limitations is that I really encourage parents to try to follow the same limitations that they set on the kid themselves. A lot of the times the kids don't see a problem with the video gaming that they're doing because the parent will be yelling across the living room. Hey, stop playing on your video games. You're on it too much. And then meanwhile, they'd continue to browse on their phone and get in political arguments on Facebook. So it's kind of a hard thing to be able to set limitations, unless you're able to set those same limitations on yourself, to a reasonable degree. If you're doing work from your computer, of course, then you need to do that.

Anthony Godfrey:
Yeah. When I was playing the Atari in 1982, my dad was not engaged in similar activity. So there was no comparison. But these days, you are right. You're playing candy crush on your phone and telling them not to play video games or you may be involved in some real video gaming yourself as a parent. You just need to be modeling that.

Dustin:
Exactly. And in fact, it's funny that you bring up Candy Crush because there were actually a statistics released a few years back that the number one demographic that was addicted to Candy Crush were middle-aged women. And so, here we are, always worrying about kids being addicted to video games, and sometimes we need to kind of look at ourselves and see just what our technological habits are as well.

Anthony Godfrey:
Just to summarize, a child who can admit that they need to cut back, may not need the most strict restrictions right out of the gate. But if they can't even admit it, you may need to go to an extreme and just say, we need to cut this off entirely. And then it rests with the parent to do the same.

Dustin:
Yes, definitely. As well as this video gaming addiction course, I teach a continuous course at the JFEC that helps with nicotine addiction. And the thing  we always tell everybody is that cold turkey is the most effective, but most difficult method to getting over an addiction. And so it goes the same way with technology and video gaming. If it's to the point where it's a severe addiction, sometimes cold turkey is the best option where we're just going to unplug and hide those things, block those things on the computer, and then maybe reintroduce it later, if we can learn how to handle this thing a little bit better.

Anthony Godfrey:
How serious can this problem be?

Dustin:
I would equate it to any type of other addiction where it can definitely lead to very serious problems if we let it get out of hand. With the individual addiction to video games, studies have been tied to severe signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety. If it's to the point that social interactions through video games really does not equate social interaction face to face, or even like through conversation over things such as Google meet or phone calls. And so honestly, while there is some social benefit to video games, true video gaming addiction will lead to social anxiety and social stress and difficulty maintaining social relationships with people as well. So there are really severe outcomes that can come from it. And it is a serious thing to consider when we're trying to monitor kids' usage of video games.

Anthony Godfrey:
Are those some of the signs when professional help may need to be sought?

Dustin:
Definitely. I would treat it just like any other addiction. Honestly, I wouldn't say that there's really very many people out there that specify in therapeutic treatment specifically for video gaming addiction. But if you find somebody that is an addiction specialist, then that's somebody that would be perfect to go to. Our District is actually really great in helping people find professionals to meet with the Health and Wellness Team at the District level, even put together a huge Excel spreadsheet on the website that shows providers in the area, and it will specifically tell whether or not they deal with addiction. And so those were the type of people to see for specific problems, to the point of it being severe with addiction to video games.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay, Dustin, thanks. This has been great information. Tell me what is your favorite video game?

Dustin:
That's a hard question to answer to be honest. Part of the reason why I am so interested in teaching. This is because I feel like I actually had a real struggle with video gaming addiction myself as a youth. I was really into it back in high school, really into PlayStation II and Nintendo 64 when I was a little bit younger and I got hooked, really into the single player games. There was a series called Kingdom Hearts that had a very involved, very lengthy, great story to it, but it took up way too much of my time. And I realized that. I'm a very athletic guy, but at the same time, the video games started taking way too much of my time. And so now I'm just here to help. Not only help kids not go down that road, but also help parents understand and connect with their kids.

Anthony Godfrey:
Thanks for joining us, Dustin, great information. I look forward to talking with you about other topics in the future.

Dustin:
Yeah, definitely. Thank you.

Anthony Godfrey:
Thanks for joining us for another episode of the Supercast. Remember, education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see you.

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