Black and white image of traditional alarm clock

Time for a change. When I last saw my psychologist, she equated allowing my son to play video games to allowing him to smoke marijuana. She said that the two did the same neurological and psychological damage, that video games produce emotional cripples unable to make intimate relationships. She was quite incensed about it.

I do not need that kind of reaction. I need a more balanced approach. I’m parenting a teen boy, and I need help in doing so. Teen boys play video games. I’m not going to cut my son off from his friends, but somehow we must do a better job of setting limits.

Here’s the difficulty: I have seen this psychologist on and off for ten years. We moved away twice during that time – once to Eugene and once to the Mojave Desert – and returned to south Orange County after both moves.

Anyway, tomorrow we are seeing the psychologist who collaborates with my psychiatrist for help with our (my) relationship with our son. I may enlist him as my psychologist. We’ll see how it goes.


51 responses to “Time to Find a New Therapist”

  1. He is a good kid. He is not a discipline problem at school. Just sick a lot, and moderately depressed. Understandable given circumstances this year. Expect that to change.

  2. Intelligent young people were always my favourite. They are so interesting and I like it when they outsmart me. I wasn’t thinking about negotiation I was thinking more in terms of an adult conversation. Discussing weighing up the consequences, learning from each other and let him decide. Asking him how he wants you to help him to achieve his goals. That is what I meant. Maybe its what you meant too. He does sound like a good kid, the more you write about him.

  3. Glad you found a more level headed and less judgmental therapist. I hope she continues to be helpful. 🙂

  4. We do talk when he’s open to it. He’s not a talker, but when he does talk, he does so intelligently. We’ve always talked and been more into negotiation than hard and fast rules and consequences. We’ve always given him a way to “turn it around” and earn back privileges. He’s actually a very good kid.

  5. I know that problem. I’m a softy too. You want them to be happy. I find it easier with some issues to talk it through with them. You didn’t say if you have tried that already. If you haven’t, 14 is a good age for that. Then you’re not doing it as a random rule, you have all thought it through together and you are helping him to be the person he wants to be. It does sound like the situation is going to be difficult to sort out by internet messages. But hopefully, some things have helped. I loved working with 12-14 year olds because they were still children and yet you really can have grown up discussions with them. Maybe you are already. If you want to chat more or email more I’m happy be more specific but perhaps more privately, you can message me at my blog and I can message you back from my email account. But I’m really wary of saying anything else at this point because I don’t know enough about the situation, there are too many variables and its too easy to misunderstand something by internet. No worries if you don’t want to, it sounds like you have a lot of professionals involved. But if you did, I’m happy to chat or email about what details might help you.

  6. The other psychologist we saw for advice in handling our son basically said something similar, that for kids like our son who have attention deficits, gaming hyper focuses them, making them feel normal, but gives them an addictive feedback loop in which it raises blood pressure and heart rates. It is how he socializes, though. He’s quite shy.

  7. Thank you for taking your time in giving me such great detailed instructions. I think that the greatest “problem” my husband and I have with our son is that we feel tremendous empathy for him and are softies. Our son suffers too much with his migraines and health problems, and we feel at a loss. Yesterday, I took our son to his (our) psychiatrist. He had my son take a test to measure depression, and he measured mild to moderate depression. To top it off, he is again sick – this time with cold symptoms. He has a very weak immune system.

  8. Wow! What your therapist was saying is ridiculous. Video games are like marijuana? I would be interested in knowing where she got her data for making those kinds of assertions. If anything, video games are a social activity for many gamers and a way for friends to bond.

    I admit I may be a little biased in favor of games because I enjoy them as a way to relax after I write. They have inspired a number of ideas for stories, including my first novel, and I do not consider myself a social cripple unable to form healthy relationships. Video games are a form of recreation like watching a movie.

    I do not blame you at all for seeking a different therapist. Her diatribe seems like a classic example of being unable to “see the forest for the trees,” not to mention that her assumptions are mistaken.

    Good luck finding a better therapist. 🙂

  9. Wow! That’s a lot of work. I can’t advise on that specifically as I would have to know a lot more about the case. But I’ve got some tips which you may or may not know. Obviously, if we had had a chat I wouldn’t have said half this stuff but I’m covering all bases. Apologies for the bits you know and are doing already.
    1. You have to stop blaming yourself or anyone else. I say this because no matter how many people were involved trying to solve the problem, parents always blame themselves. As I pointed out to one parent, if it was that simple to solve we would have cracked it by now. More importantly, it takes your focus off the solution and distracts your mind. Don’t pay attention to anyone else blaming you either, they have no idea what you are dealing with. Don’t blame them for their ignorance, they are just ignorant. We are all ignorant at times.
    2. He will value that you tried even when you don’t get it right. My parents weren’t the best parents ever, because of their history, but they tried with all the knowledge at their disposal and I really value that.
    3. You have to hold your boundaries and the sooner you start doing that the easier it will become. 14 years old is about the hardest time to start enforcing boundaries. But, I believe, better late than never. When I set limits with a group of young men 13-15 yrs, it was scary, so much so that once I was physically shaking with fear. It took about 6 months, after which people I did not even know had respect for me.
    4. Whilst you are enforcing your boundaries be smart about your safety. I trained my team on how to look out for each other when conflicts arose and how to handle fights. So you and your husband will need to have a long chat about how you enforce boundaries and what you do when he doesn’t take it well. Then adjust as you learn what works and doesn’t work. Sports teams come up with plans all the time that go wrong in execution, it takes practice. So don’t blame each other, look for solutions and work with each others strengths. Keep practising and be well pleased with yourselves when you get it right.
    5. Stay calm and don’t get angry even if he frightens you.
    6. If he says he hates you, he doesn’t mean it. Lots of teenagers say it. It probably means he’s cross with you for something though.
    7. You can raise your voice if necessary but you must take a deep breath into your belly first and lower your pitch. I’m 5’2 and 7 stone, about as intimidating as a chuahuahua, but I have stopped fights by getting my tone right. When you speak make sure your words are clear.
    8. Children always know where the real power lies. That person has to enforce the rules.
    9. If your son is mad at you, don’t be the one to reason with him. It has to be someone else who gets him to calm down. Hold your line and let him come to you.
    10. Don’t come short on boundaries, if you agreed that you would take the Xbox away the next day for bad behaviour then you can’t take it away that day. You can change boundaries though as you see they are not working, but its best not to do it in that moment. Agree the rules at a time when you are all calm.
    11. Be honest especially at 14, he can’t learn if you are not honest with yourself and him.
    12. Do some work around the importance of rules and your role and his role.
    13. Listen for what he is really saying and where you can help him learn. For example, when I was younger I was left on my own in a room of teenage boys and one turned round and said “I want to … you …” I won’t put exactly what he said as you might be offended. I had no idea what to say. Another boy asked me if I heard what he said. I gave myself a heart beat of thought (which is fine to do) and said “I heard what he said but that is no way to chat up a girl. Why don’t you ask me what I do with my time, or tell me about you, what do you do for a job? Do you like it?” What they were trying to do was get my attention but then I gave them more, I gave them tips on how to chat people up. I totally earned their respect. So stay calm. Focus on what you can teach him that will be useful.
    14. Always be emotionally available. 14 year olds don’t give you a lot of chances to do the right thing. So, you’ll have to put it in your mind, whenever he needs to talk I have the time.
    16. Try to find ways to connect that aren’t about telling him off, hang out when he is playing Xbox for a bit and learn about the game, or go mountain biking or find something scary and fun and safe to do together. But allow him to stop when he wants to, even 5 minutes of doing something together would be a great start. I took a group on high ropes which was great but after a while 2 of them wanted to stop, I’m not sure why, could have been too much being told what to do, as they weren’t used to it, so that was fine, I let them and gave them a pack of cards to play with. Everyone had a great day.
    17. Treat him like an adult, expect him to act like a child.
    18. If you can discuss with him his aspirations, what kind of person he wants to be, what is so great about gaming and then agree the rules. That way he’ll understand you are doing it in his best interest and you will be sure you are doing the right thing. He’ll still get mad at times and act like a child though. But you know, he’s only 14.
    19. Remember your sense of humour. I don’t know you, maybe you do that already, I find its really handy.
    20. Take breaks from it all.

    I hope some of that is helpful. I don’t know if this last comment is relevant but I worked with a number of children whose parents had not been emotionally available at times (through no fault of their own) and that made enforcing boundaries and connecting really challenging. If that’s been the case for you reconnecting will be tricky and you’ll want support because you’ll have to prove he can trust you (and he might put you through hell for that), but that will be amazing for you and him, if you don’t have it already.

    Get some peer support, nobody knows like other people in the same position and their advice and support can be spot on. I got together a group of Mums whose sons were getting into lots of trouble and they loved it. The facilitator said it was the most amazing group she had ever had.

    Anyway hope something of this helps. I normally listen a lot more before giving advice so I feel a bit unsure of myself. But I imagine you going down the list going, No, no, yes, no, tried that, might try that again.

    Best of luck.

  10. Go for it. What’s your advice. My son is actually well behaved in school and social situations. He is shy. He saves his acting out for home. At school what he’s been doing is avoiding making up school work he missed while out for an inordinate amount of sick days. He gets migraines and sick a lot. He used to take stimulant medication for ADHD. Now he takes Elavil to prevent migraines. He was first brought in to see a child psychologist at four years old and first medicated at five. We’ve a long history of intervening with him. Now he’s 14. Still a good kid, but buried under stress of honors classes and missed exams.

  11. You know deep inside if a practitioner is right for you. I hope you find someone who’s balanced – or balances your family.

  12. I keep trying to write a reply and then worrying that you won’t want the advice I would like to give. Or maybe you know it all already, in which case it might not be helpful. I have quite a lot of experience of working with young people in many different situations and for a couple of years worked with parents and their children involved in anti-social behaviour. I have to say all the parents I worked with were amazing. You would think so too if you knew their histories. If you would like some advice, I would be happy to give it in the hope it will help you to feel less adrift or more anchored, I’m not sure what the opposite of adrift would be.

  13. Honestly, I’m not sure. I feel adrift. Once upon a time, in the 90s, I treated adolescent girls. I quit the field when I turned to treating adolescent boys – not my favorite population and now I’m mothering one. The psychologist we spoke to Monday suggested a firm limit of 3 to 3.5 hours a day playing time disciplining him by removing xbox privileges for the next day if he throws a temper tantrum or uses disrespectful or threatening language (not just a bad attitude). Last night, he threw a temper tantrum, but my husband did not help me take the xbox from him. We are terrible hard and fast limit setters. Our son is always pushing the limit for game playing.

  14. Aw! I used to work with teenagers. They are a brilliant age group to work with. Your therapist seems to have missed hearing that the issue is that he does things to a level where he fails to notice his body’s needs. And like a lot of teenagers his desire for adrenaline overcomes his awareness that we are mortal. I think its a tricky balance and debates are an essential part of his growing up at this stage. I inherited a dangerous, thoughtless group of young people and used a lot of “what did you learn from that?” type questions, which seemed to be effective and might enable your son to realise he needs to rest and drink water. Also realising looking after his body and mind will make him a better player, might help. All the great racing drivers and great sportsmen take care of themselves, go to the gym, eat well etc. There would be a few other things that could help as well but I’m sure the psychologist who specialises in young adults will be good to chat to. Then you could even keep your counsellor for you. After all most people are better in one area than others. Or maybe you’ve just outgrown your counsellor.

  15. Good point. Turns out my son may be a video addict after all, but I needed supportive advice, not her reaction. We are still trying to work it out. Tonight was a tough night. Parenting a teen boy is tough.

  16. Hi, Kitt! What a great topic to write about. 2 years ago I fired my psychiatrist of just 3 years. It was like walking into an episode of ‘Frazier.’ He was curt with me, always booked appointments starting at 9am and walked in the door around 9:45. That is no way to run a business. I got the whole ‘how dare a patient fire a doctor!’ Well, he held up my medication for 2 weeks as a payback, and I really had to control myself at the front office when they refused to give me my records, because had I not done so, I’m sure they would have called the police and it would have been all my fault. Bottom line is doctors are businesses, and I encourage people to approach it that way (afterall, 50% of them graduated in the lower half of their class lol) just the same as recommending a grocery store that treats you like your special and appreciates your business! Tracy

  17. Thank you, Diane.

  18. Thank you, Annie.

  19. Therapists or any doctor really who are so dogmatic about ‘their opinions’ are not helping their patients at all. We just left our family doctor at the end of last year, because she was so sure of her own diagnoses that she refused to allow that a specialist might know more, and didn’t want to waste the governments money sending us to one… .(as well as other issues)… I think you are so right in changing…. Diane

  20. I do not think that telling you that allowing him to watch video games was like letting him smoke pot, was realistic, professional, or any of her business to judge.

    My daughter’s therapist gets judgemental with me and all it does is give me anxiety .

    It is not helpful.
    We are paying these people to help our situation, not to try to crush our self esteem and criticize us.

    Everyone who goes into being a therapist is not someone that should be doing that job.

    You should feel built up and more confident when you leave a therapy session, not broken down.

    Much love,


  21. I’ll have to check out the Bad Science Train™®. My son countered that there are studies showing the opposite. He was ready to debate the issue.

  22. Perhaps. Thank you.

  23. Actually, she had been a wonderful therapist for me, but now I need help specifically with parenting a teen boy. She is not helping me with that need (even though she parented a son herself many years ago). No doubt she made different parenting choices than I have.

  24. Thank you. She referred to studies that video games negatively affect the brain’s development.

  25. That’s one way to see it. She was clearly upset.

  26. Well, this afternoon we go to a different psychologist to negotiate the time he spends video gaming. We’ll see how that goes.

  27. We need to set limits, without doubt. It’s hard at this point. There was a year when he sold his games and gaming systems to focus on mountain biking, but decided to go back to gaming the summer before high school. He would over-do biking and quickly went from all mountain biking to downhill mountain biking, which is extremely dangerous.

  28. He is a good kid. Very moral and ethical. Not using drugs. Not dating yet even though girls have asked him out. (He’s cute.) He has said that he’s not ready to date yet. He has enough insight and maturity to realize that he’s not ready to date. He’s straight (I’d be totally OK if he was gay), but shy and still more boy than man.

  29. Definitely keeping my son. Thanks.

  30. There are definitely social issues involved. I can hear him joyously interacting with his friends and cousins. He’d be totally isolated without the technology, for he has made it clear that he cannot tolerate extracurricular activities anymore. School is as much direct social interaction he can handle due to his sensitivity to sound (and other triggers to migraines, asthma, and allergies).

  31. He’s totally obsessed and has trouble when he’s highly focused on something. He was the same way when he was obsessed with fishing (for hours and hours) and downhill mountain biking (to exhaustion and migraines).

  32. Lesse, I met my husband because of video games. We are both mature adults with excellent communication skills who are well in touch with our emotions. This guy (or lady) sounds WAY stuck in the past on the Bad Science Train™®. :/

  33. Finding a balance in life is so hard. Maybe your therapist was having an equally hard time with balance that day. 😉 Sending you positive thoughts. G-uno

  34. I’m with everyone here.
    Sometimes we stay with a bad therapist because it’s so darn hard to go through the process of finding one that’s better (better meaning one that fits us). But her reaction was inappropriate.

  35. Wow..comparing video games to drugs…that is extreme. It sounds like you are making the best decision, and I wish you all the best with finding a new therapist.

  36. I think she was very rude.

  37. Wow, it sounds like you pushed some of her buttons, maybe she has a problem with her son and video games… When a psychologist’s personal issues are triggered by a patient, then good psychologists will refer them to someone else, so it’s a good idea to talk to someone else! My son just finished 2nd year Law school, and in his down time, he plays video games as well. This doesn’t make him anti social, as he has friends and a girlfriend with whom he interacts. I think it allows him to relax and enter a fantasy world. I just asked him why he plays video games, he said “Because they’re fun!” Simply that, because they’re fun. Not a bad reason to do something relatively harmless.

  38. It might be a little late to start this with your son if he’s already a teen. But here’s something we did with our sons that worked pretty well. We set a limit of one hour per day of “electronic time” (video games, watching TV or videos) on weekdays and two hours on weekends, with unlimited time on birthdays, Christmas and a few other holidays. We started this when they were a bit younger and talked about the research on screen time that made us make this decision. They didn’t always like it, and they sometimes pushed on the limits, but it basically worked. You would probably have to negotiate more time with an older boy but maybe you could agree on something. My 20-year-old son told me, “I’m glad you put those limits on our electronic time. Some of my friends don’t do anything else, and it made me read books and go on hikes and develop other sides of myself.” I can’t promise you’d get this good a reaction but it really worked for us. (On the other hand, I know my son does smoke marijuana sometimes, so no pretending that there are no issues at all.)

    You are right to be unhappy with any doctor or therapist who gets “incensed” about something that is a central part of teen culture and takes such an absolutist position. It seems like it’s a place where she has mixed up her own values with her job, which is to help you find something that works for your family. Good luck finding someone else.

  39. Kitt,
    Setting limits is a good thing as you stated above comments. You also stated its away to keep in contact with friends and family. It bothers me that your therapist would compare it to drugs. If “battling” over homework and gaming (and probably dating) then I say you have a pretty good kid on your hands. Keep up the good work. It infuriates me when others judges others parenting skills.

  40. Keep your son. Dump the therapist. Van

  41. I know it can be scary to see someone new, after so many years of developing a professional relationship. However you must do what is best for you and your family, so I applaud you having the courage to make a change.

    As a parent I think we have to understand the technological environment our kids are raised in. I think that there are social issues that we have to address if we remove electronics from our kids lives. I agree that all things should be done in moderation, but that is a sensible mantra for most things in life.

  42. Oh I understand that. I’m ocd, I can start and not stop. I try to set limits. It’s hard.

  43. He socializes over the headset. I can hear him talking with his cousins and with friends from his elementary school who do not go to the same high school. It’s a way for him to maintain his friendships. We just must set limits. It’s the limits to the amount of time spent on gaming that we are constantly negotiating and renegotiating. Ongoing battle. Better to be battling over this (and his grades) than over drugs. He’s a good kid.

  44. Thanks. She’s helped me quite a bit over the years, but that’s a bit extreme.

  45. Good luck!

  46. I would smack them. That’s his “support” network I bet. I use video games to remove stress. Other things can be for pain. I don’t play video games for a high, to ruin my brain. Video games relax my brain and allow it to focus when it’s running a thousand different places at once.

  47. She sounds like a whackadoodle to me.

  48. That does seem a bit .. strange!
    Saying they are so simiiliar and that you are doing wrong… what teenage boy, or girl! Doesnt play video games! Pfft! I think a change is needed too! Good Luck!

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