July, 20 2018

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Wilderness Program for Video Game Addiction

SUWS Youth & Adolescent Program, one of the nation's oldest and best-known wilderness therapy programs, has expanded its focus to include treatment of children and teens with video game addiction.

"We noticed a dramatic increase over the years in parent concerns that video games were essentially controlling their children's lives. Even young children were beginning to show obsessive video gaming behaviors," explains Kathy Rex, Executive Director of the SUWS Programs.

Video Game Addiction

Video game addiction is not always easy to diagnose, but most parents can identify the typical behaviors that indicate obsessive game playing. Teens who are playing more than three hours a day, who shirk real-life social connections in favor of virtual relationships with fellow game players, and who become obsessive about missing "game time" could be considered addicted to video games. Addiction is generally described as a behavior where the addicted person cannot give up the behavior for any length of time, seeks out the activity to such a degree that it interferes with normal social behavior or family life, and becomes enraged if they are kept from the activity.

Jeffery Derry, Clinical Director of SUWS, explains, "Video game addiction can impact school performance, development of real-world social skills, and family relationships."

Can Video Games be Addictive?

Although there is some controversy over whether game-playing can be categorized as "addictive," the impact obsessive playing has on children and family life is undeniable.

"Many parents feel as if they are losing their child to a world that isn't real. These teens prefer typing over talking, and communicating with strangers over developing lasting, face-to-face relationships. If these parents take the computer away or limit its use, teens will often go into frightening rages, depressive moods, or worse," explains Derry.

The Suws Approach

SUWS approaches gaming addiction the same way it approaches any behavior that has become obsessive and addictive in quality. In the wilderness setting, teens have no access to video games. The totally natural environment of a wilderness program is the perfect setting in which these kids can begin to examine what is going on with them. Without the obsessive gaming or any other distractions, many start to recognize feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and other personal issues that have made them seek out a fantasy world where they can feel powerful, in control, and "popular." Teens can then explore what needs they are really trying to meet and how they can be met in healthy, productive ways.

"The wilderness experience serves as a personal journey of self-discovery in which these kids can discover their real selves, not the magical, fictional selves they play in the virtual game world," says Rex, "The growth these kids experience in thirty days without games influencing them can be remarkable."

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