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Problematic Use of Digital Technology


Problematic Use of Digital Technology

This resource is to guide parents to better communicate with their children in coping with gaming problems. Although this resource focuses on the problematic use of digital technology, most patterns of gaming are not cause for concern. Some research even supports the positive impacts of gaming, such as developing and/or improving:

  • problem-solving abilities
  • perseverance
  • pattern recognition
  • hypothesis testing
  • estimating skills
  • inductive skills
  • resource management
  • logistics
  • mapping
  • memory
  • quick thinking
  • reasoned judgments



How much gaming is too much? It’s hard to say but our general guidelines suggest if your gamer is over 12 years old we want to target two hours or less per day, and ideally not every day. If your gamer is under 12 years old, we would suggest 30-60 minutes and again, not every day.

If your situation is not severe and you haven’t approached a detox plan before, we recommend to start with a plan to reduce gaming to those age limits. If your situation is more severe, or your situation has not improved with reduced gaming, then we would recommend to do a full detox.

Whether you are choosing to reduce or remove, stick with your plan for at least 30 days and then re-evaluate. Use the following tips to improve communication between parents and children.



To reduce the impact of gaming, consider these ideas:

Let them earn it: Every game day is earned through a game-free day. Require gaming to be played in balance, with not only other activities but also days off.

 Move devices to a common area: You want to reduce your gamers’ ability to be isolated in a dark room for hours on end. Bring their PCs and consoles into a central area of the home.

 Shift to different types of games: Online games that are more competitive tend to be more problematic than other types of games. Consider switching to offline single-player story-based games. Common Sense Media is a great resource on games.

 Not first thing: When gaming in moderation it is meant to be a complement or addition to their life not their single-focus. Don’t allow games to be played first thing in the morning, especially on weekends. Require exercise, time in nature, and other responsibilities to be complete first.



Re-building trust and rapport

Whether you are reducing or removing gaming, rebuilding your family relationship is crucial. Be mindful of your communication.

Stop saying they are an addict: It's confrontational and easy for them to dismiss. Instead speak to the mood or behavior change you are experiencing.

Have a family meeting: Sit down and have an open discussion as a family about technology at home. Give everyone space to share their thoughts and concerns. Use the ‘Family Screen Time Agreement’ on the next page, and read Reset Your Child’s Brain.

Create family sacred time: Set specific times for the family to connect without technology. Try eating meals together, plan activities for the weekend, and stop using smartphones in cars.

Ask for proof: Did they say they worked on their resume? Did they say they did their summer homework? Hold them accountable by seeing it for yourself.


Find Replacement Activities

The less your gamer is playing the more they will need to fill their free time with other activities. The key is to find activities that fulfill the same emotional needs that gaming fulfilled.

One of the reasons gaming is so appealing is because it fulfills many of their needs in ‘one’ activity, whereas other activities don’t offer this as much, so I recommend to find three specific types of activities to replace gaming:

Mentally Engaging Activities: this is something stimulating — a new skill to develop, an achievement or goal to pursue.

Resting Activities: something to do at home when they are tired from the day and/or bored that requires a low amount of energy.

Social Activities: to help them make new friends outside of games, and that ideally gets them out of the house.

It can also be helpful to find physical activities, and ways to spend more time in nature, both of which are proven to help a gaming addict come back to the real-world.



The type of game your gamer plays can provide a lot of insights into what their underlying motivations and interests are. For example, if your gamer plays competition-based games, they may be more into sports or activities that provide them a similar level of challenge and immersion. Whereas if your gamer enjoys role-playing games, they may be more interested in activities such as filmmaking, improv, or theatre. Ask your gamer what type of games they like to play, and you can also search the game on YouTube to learn more about it.


Add Structure

Gaming tends to be the all-encompassing activity gamers use whenever they have free-time, or when they’ve fulfilled their ‘obligations’ for the day. It’s their go-to autopilot hobby.

During recovery you need to increase the amount of structure they have. Define the new activities they can do instead. Have these activities listed on a whiteboard in their room or around the house. Provide them with a calendar or daily agenda.

Many gaming addicts struggle with time management, so finding ways to help them improve this skill will support them in improving their lives.

Often we have structure for obligations such as school or work, but we have little-to-no structure for our free-time in the evenings, on the weekends, or during holidays. These are times that structure is crucial, otherwise it’s easy for gamers to fall into bingeing habits.

Without defined new activities to replace gaming, you may find yourself with someone who is no longer gaming, but they are just laying around watching YouTube or Netflix instead.



If you experience violence, or concerns of self-harm, contact the police, emergency services, or a crisis line immediately!

Setting boundaries is not easy, but it’s important for a healthy relationship. Kids are wired to test boundaries and as parents it’s crucial you remain firm in the boundaries you set. Hang in there! It’s common to experience tantrums after you limit or remove access to technology, which occurs either due to an anxious attachment style, or acting out to gain control or power.


Define your boundaries — be clear and concise, considering writing them down. What are your values? What principles are you living by? You must model this behavior for them.


Hold them accountable — if they cross a boundary, you must respect yourself and have clear consequences. Otherwise, your boundaries are meaningless and they will not respect them.


Be kind to yourself — be aware of your own emotions. If not, they will find ways to manipulate them against you.



It is recommended when you are navigating technology overuse issues that you work in collaboration with licensed professionals. Due to the limited number of professionals who currently specialize in video game addiction, we encourage you to be patient and keep searching until you find the right fit for you and your family. It is also recommended to have a family therapy approach and to avoid only focusing on the ‘gamer’.


Hong Fook does not endorse the resources below. They are provided for your interest only.

 Hong Fook Youth Counselling Services

Free counselling service for young people age 12 to 25 and their families, in Cantonese, English, Korean, Mandarin and Vietnamese.

 Good to talk

Offers free, confidential support to post-secondary students in Ontario 24/7

 Sunnybrook Family Navigation Project

Provides expert navigation of the mental health and addictions service system for youth aged 13-26 and their families living in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)

 Kids Health Phone

Services for youth under 20, including 24 hour helpline (1-800-668-6868)

Stella’s Place

Community Based Peer Support for youth 16-29

Pine River Institute

Services for youth with addictions and their families

Children’s Mental Health Ontario

Network of child and youth mental health centres with 4,000 professionals ready to help children, youth and families with free counselling and treatment.

What’s Up Walk-In® Clinic

Immediate mental health counselling for children, youth, young adults and their families, and families with infants.