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Obsessed with Video Games, Causing Aggressive Behavior


I have a 10-year-old son with high-functioning Autism. His dad and I have four children together, of which the 10-year-old is the youngest. His father and I are divorced and I have remarried and have two younger children with my new husband.

For some background information, at my house, my husband and I rarely play video games (or even watch TV or movies). At my ex-husband's house, video games, TV and movies make up the majority of entertainment.

Anyway, my 10-year-old began playing a game called Fortnite at his father's and has become semi-obsessed with the game. Within the last month, the 10-year-old spent $160 of his 16-year-old brother's money to purchase in-game credits.

My ex-husband and I spoke to our 10-year-old about this and he was grounded from video games for about 2 weeks. This punishment didn't hold true, however, as when he was at his dad's, his dad would be at work and was not able to enforce the punishment. If his siblings (who normally watch him at dad's while dad is at work) tried to enforce it, he would become violent toward them.

 This past week, my 10-year-old got into my 17-year-old's wallet and used his bank card to purchase in-game credits again. My ex-husband and I discussed the issue and decided that when the kids went to dad's for the summer (coming home every weekend -- reverse schedule from the school year) the 10-year-old would not be joining them. He would stay here where his punishment could be enforced, while keeping his siblings safe, as well.

The punishment we decided on was to be technology free until he has worked off the $160 he stole from our oldest son. However, he refuses to do the chores and tasks required of him to earn his privileges back. I have no problem keeping him tech-free until this amount has been reached, but he has been having increasing behavioral issues and is starting to become physically aggressive and very vocal about his punishment. It is to the point it is beginning to impact the daily function of our family as a whole. I'm not sure what to do or who to ask for help. Any ideas?


obsessed gamer

Thanks for reaching out to us today. Co-parenting can be very difficult, especially when you and your ex-husband do not have consistent patterns of discipline in your respective homes. You and your husband are doing the right thing by enforcing consequences for your son's actions and by taking extra steps to ensure he does not get out of those consequences simply by going to dad's house. The loss of technology privileges until he works off the money he stole is an excellent consequence -- it is both logical and proportionate to the behavior that earned him that consequence.

Your son's increasing amount of behavior issues and aggression seems to be a major source of stress in the home. You are doing the right thing by standing firm and continuing to enforce his consequences even as he fights back against them. It is important he also receives consequences when he shows disrespect or becomes physically or verbally aggressive. This may require some creative thinking, as technology seems to be a major incentive for your son and is already being withheld. Continue to hold your ground, as difficult as it may be when he becomes aggressive and defiant. If your son's physical aggression is escalating to the point where it is becoming a safety issue in the home, come up with a safety plan as to what you as a family will do both before and during these incidents. This plan may include removing or locking away any dangerous objects that your son might use to hurt others or himself, as well as planning where his siblings might go when he escalates -- perhaps into a locked room, outside, or to a neighbor's house.

Teaching kids social skills such as accepting consequences, accepting "no" for an answer, and controlling emotions are all essential for helping kids learn and develop better behaviors. This list of 10 Social Skills on the Boys Town parenting website comes with a tool for each skill that you can use with your son. These lay out specific steps for developing each skill. Focus on one skill at a time, read the tool with your son, and have him practice the skill by role playing scenarios in which he will need to use it. Practicing controlling emotions with him could be especially helpful in regulating his outbursts.

Another strategy you can try is taking a positive approach to discipline with your son. This involves not just giving negative consequences for bad behavior, but also rewarding good behavior with positive consequences. In addition to the positive consequences, positive praise also helps reinforce the types of behaviors you want to see from your son. Positive praise involves pointing out a good behavior to your son in the moment it occurs, explaining why it is important, and then praising him for it. When adults notice the things kids do well, and not just the negative behaviors they display, they have more incentive to continue to behave well in the future.

Stay strong as you continue to work through these difficult behaviors with your son. Remember you are an incredibly strong parent, and you are already taking many positive steps to help your son and correct his behaviors. Thankfully there are many strategies out there that can create turnarounds for even the toughest cases of behavior, and hopefully some of these suggestions will bring some more stability to your home over time. Please feel free to reach out if you are in need of any more support. You can continue to reach out to us via email, or you can call the Nebraska Family Helpline, with whom we partner to give support to Nebraska parents. The Helpline can be reached at 1-888-866-8660.