Have you ever taken away your child’s tablet or interrupted a teen’s video game only to be met with an outburst of anger, hostility or destructive behavior? If so, you are not alone.
According to Beachwood psychologist Jay Berk, of Jay Berk, PhD & Associates, author of “Parent’s Guide to Electronic Addiction,” “rage quitting” or “rage refusal” is an explosive, extreme reaction to having electronics taken away and is increasingly common across age groups. Reactions can range from mood swings to more extreme cases of property damage or violence. Berk warns that this kind of reaction could signal troubles with technology or even addiction.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, at least one person plays video games in two-thirds of American households, and the World Health Organization recently classified gaming addiction as a real mental health disorder. However, Berk points out that problems are not exclusive to video games like Fortnight. Use of apps such as YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram can elicit similar reactions.
“Video games are designed to be addictive,” says Berk. “However, use of electronics does not have to reach the point of addiction to cause rage reactions or have a negative impact.”
We spoke with Berk about this important distinction, causes, who is most at-risk, and what parents can do to ensure a healthy, reasonable pastime does not turn into an addiction.
Why is Quitting Difficult?
“Research is showing this rage is not just behavioral. It’s tied to the neurology of the brain, and by denying access to what brings enjoyment and makes endorphins run, the effect is similar to taking away a drug,” Berk explains. “It is easy to lose track of time and get engrossed in electronic activities, since there is no natural end or stopping point. In Pac-Man, you had three lives, then the game was over. Neighborhood kickball ended when the sun went down. This is no longer the case.”
Additionally, many games incentivize users to continue playing and penalize or ban them for quitting.
Berk says youth seek a sense of accomplishment they are not getting in real life. “In technology, it is easier to achieve,” he says. “To learn a sport or instrument takes months or years of practice, but achievement in video games is faster. It becomes easier to pick up an iPad than go outside and kick a ball.”
Who’s at Risk?
Berk identifies youth at higher risk for technology addiction as those with mood disorders, depression, anxiety and social skill deficits, as well as those with autism spectrum disorder who may struggle with social interaction and seek high interest areas online. Youth prone to mood swings or aggression are more likely to have rage quitting reactions. He advises parents to be aware of areas in which a child struggles and advocate for opportunities to work on those skills — for example, participating in a social skills group.
“This cuts deep to the root issue of inclusion and kids seeking a like-minded community where they feel they belong,” Berk says.
He stresses the importance of giving children the tools they need to manage on their own when they leave home. By defaulting to electronics, many children are missing opportunities to develop patience, self-regulation and frustration tolerance, which are necessary for success.
Click here to listen to our aParently Speaking podcast episode featuring Berk, who shares additional information on how to help parents manage their kids’ electronics usage.
Dr. Berk Offers Tips for Parents to Help Manage Kids Device Behavior:
- Do not react to your child’s rage in an extreme way. Discuss electronic usage when everyone is calm. Help the child understand and acknowledge there is a problem.
- Focus on the impact on daily life more than the amount of time on the device(s).
- Do not cut the cord cold turkey. Berk compares handling technology troubles to addressing an eating disorder: You cannot take away all electronics or food. Technology is an important part of our lives.
- Set parameters for healthy use and work toward that.
- Set rules and consequences for not following them.
- Try earning time.
- Utilize parental controls, remove technology from bedrooms at night and turn off routers and alerts.
- Model the behavior you want to see. Limit time on your own phone and computer.
- Provide outlets for play, imagination and achievement without electronics.