Dear Margo: “Mortal Kombat”? “Angry Birds”?

My college-age son may be addicted to video games: Margo Howard’s advice

“Mortal Kombat”? “Angry Birds”?

Dear Margo: I think my college-age son is addicted to video games. It is possible he is just depressed, but in any case, something is wrong. He doesn’t love school, but can do well when he sets his sights on a goal. He’s home for the summer, but he refuses to look for a job or consider summer school. He does nothing, and the family can’t handle it anymore. We find it a bad example for the younger siblings and just plain bad energy. It was because of this that I told him he couldn’t stay here anymore. I kicked him out yesterday because I think it’s time for tough love. On the other hand, I’m worried. –Sick at Heart

Dear Sick: Well, if the kid is old enough to go to college, he is old enough to fend for himself — given the fact that he was welcome to live at home if he showed some sign of life, i.e., having a productive summer where he was doing something. Video games can be an addiction, so perhaps steer him toward a counselor or a support group that deals with this. Tell the young man that your door is open to him should he decide to be useful. And do remind him that playing any kind of game for hours at a time is not an occupation. And who knows? Maybe your determined action will do him some good. Here’s hoping. –Margo, hopefully

A History of Flying Off the Handle

Dear Margo: I need advice about how to cope with my older sister who flies off the handle, often for no reason at all. We are both in our 60s. The pattern of our adult lives has been to get along fairly well for a while, until she blows up at me for a real or imagined reason. Most of the time, her anger is completely out of proportion to the offense. She says things that are so hurtful that my reaction is to retreat. There have been times when we have not spoken to each other for years, followed by one of us (usually me) trying to patch things up. This happens over and over. Only once, in an argument, did I scream back at her and say the worst things that came to mind. I had always wondered what would happen if she got as good as she gave. It didn’t make any difference … except I felt even worse afterward. And it precipitated a four-year “separation.”

We recently got back together, but it has already started all over again. This last time, I refused to retreat and told her we had to learn how to communicate better with each other; that her blowing up and my retreating are both unhealthy. What makes people have such different styles of communication? As much as I try, I have a hard time forgetting some of the terrible things she has said. This has kept us from being as close as sisters should be. What can I do? –Gun Shy

Dear Gun: It sounds as though your sister not only has a temper and impulse-control issues, but I’d bet you anything there is something seriously bothering her about her life, and you’ve become the target. (Proving, yet again, that siblings from the same home can be entirely different in temperament and the ability to manage.) It’s possible there’s some carried-over resentment from the younger years. Maybe you were the favored child or prettier or something that made you a frenemy in her eyes. (And I know what you mean about feeling wounded by things she has said.)

Her pattern has become clear (and repeated), so you need to accept that this is who she is. She will not change. As for what to do, you can lie low and let things drift … perhaps into no relationship at all. Not everyone gets a great sister. –Margo, genealogically

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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72 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    LW1 – Why did you not do something years ago when he was playing video games.  My oldest son was wrapped in video games as a teen, so Iput my foot down, only certain times for games.  He had to earn time with the games by playing outside, being with friends, homework and school activities.  I am afraid that you have shut the barn door after the horse has escaped.  Hopefully he will become a game designer as that is the only thing he seems destined for.

    LW 2 – I would love to know the dynamics of the family as you were growing up.  Since my mother passed away, none of us siblings talk.  Due to being split up in foster care early and reunited as each became of age and moved home, there are problems.  Add to that the favoritism shown by my mother and there you have volatile problems.  My sister who was shown the favoritism is by far the most vocal and accusatory towards the rest of us.l  Heaven forbid you should disagree with her highness.  I went so far as to tell her at Christmas one year that if I were her poor husband and had to put up with her crap, she would have been dead and buried in the back yard years prior. 

    I have become accostomed to the fact that the family is too damaged to be put back together.  As the oldest, I have tried for years.  But for my own sanity, I can no onger deal with it.  All of my siblings know that the olive branch is there – all they have to do is contact me and we will go forward with no looking back and no old crap thrown in anyone’s face.   Alas, no one has yet to take me up on it.  That withstanding, I have healthy relationships with many of my nieces and nephews who have seen me try to get the family back together.  I have faith that they will carry on the “family” where their “elders” could not.  Kudos to them

    • avatar bamabob says:

      Why do you assume LW1’s son was hooked on video games years ago as opposed to picking up the habit once he was on his own at college? How are your remarks helpful to her situation? You assume her son’s problems are her fault; you criticize her for not addressing the problem earlier; your comments regarding the action she’s taken now is that it’s too little too late and then you predict a life of failure for her son. One wonders why such a charming person as yourself has a poor relationship with her siblings..

      • avatar Kate Olsen says:

        Bamabob – as the mother of two sons, now in their late 20’s, it is very rare for a person to “pick up” a video addiction once they trot off to college.  Do you have any children?  What ages?  Do you have any experience in this area?  And I explained my reasons for bad relations – what pray tell is yours?

        • avatar Amy says:

          Kate, you come off as having a bit of a superior complex and an aggressive streak, so it’s a bit tough to swallow your advice for mending family ties. You even admit that you told your sister point-blank that if you were the “poor husband” that married her you’d have killed her in cold blood! Very uncool. It is heartwarming to know you have a good relationship with your nieces and nephews, at least – if your siblings were truly toxic as you say they are I suspect they would try to poison them against you or forbid you from seeing them outright.

          As far as LW#1 goes, I agree with Bama that to blame the mother is irrational, as there is no indication whatsoever of his past behavior. Video games are not evil, they are a fun pastime, and as with anything else, the key is moderation. The problem isn’t that he plays video games, it’s that he refuses to get a job or lift a finger to help around the house.

          And I got news for you, I work as a game designer, and it’s hardly a job for a lazy, aimless good-for-nothing. It’s a stressful, demanding job, but thoroughly rewarding and requires a college degree, years of experience and a hell of a good portfolio. I think the boy is just ambitionless, and needs a taste of the harsh reality of the real world. That way, maybe he’ll grow up. The mother did the right thing by kicking him out.

          • avatar Michelles11 says:

            I don’t even like video games, or games in general, but I WILL admit I got a bit addicted to Bejeweled on Facebook.  And strangely enough, I was having a really rough time in my life.  So yeah, I think maybe this kid’s “addicition” could have something to do with his state of mind.  College isn’t fun for everyone, it can be overwhelming.  Maybe he just needs some direction, LW1 Mom is right to be concerned and I wouldn’t assume that he’s been addicted to video games for years, it could just be a means of escape for him.

        • avatar bamabob says:

          Yes I have children teens thru late 20s. Yes, I have experience in this area, and while I was in the service I can’t tell you how many people I saw become addicted to much less sophisticated video games than are available now–people who never so much as picked up a joystick while they lived at home. I agree with Margo and the other comments; LW1 did the right thing. If her son starts showing some initiative, even if the only job he’s able to find isn’t enough to fully support himself it would be enough to indicate he’s mature enough to come back home.

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            Yup—I agree with bamabob, and what the LW did as far as kicking the son out. Oh, and sorry Kate—but it’s extremely unlikely that the kid will become a game designer (which involves a great deal of talent, focus and discipline to learn and execute animated design). The kid may be depressed, but it also sounds like he’s kinda lazy and unmotivated. There’s usually only a few things that end this behavior—a need for money, a really awful job or two, or a girl.

        • avatar momis says:

          Not so, I’m 30 and, while I always played video games when I lived with my parents, it was most certainly not an addiction. I moved out at 24 (was cheaper to live with my family while in college) when I landed my current job. I bought my own video console and played video games until late. I remember a Thanksgiving weekend that I decided not to go home (we don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving at home) and decided to play the new video game I had just bought. I finished that game in two days with little sleep in between.

          Fortunately for me, not all type of video games appeal to me so I go for long periods of time without getting a new one and not touching my ps3 remote control at all. But when I do get my hands on a game I enjoy, I will probably be addicted to it until I finish it.

          I don’t think being “addicted” to video games necessarily makes you an unproductive person. In most cases it does, but there are several people like myself that enjoy playing video games from time to time and still hold a productive job. I’m an engineer working on my master’s degree and I just got a promotion yesterday. It was significant for me to get it because my manager fought with HR to get my promotion when my company is about to lay off a large number of employees. But also significant because it was a very, very generous raise. So I think that clearly shows that my temporarily video game addictions do not interfere with my work productivity.

          My younger brother is a video gamer as well but he never liked school to begin with. He has an okay job and a very social life; he gets out of his room to go do other stuff so we are not worried video games are consuming his life.

          The kid in LW#1 does sound like he needs help, though.

        • avatar BeanCounter says:

          Kate – bamabob has a valid point that you didn’t address.  HOW ARE YOUR REMARKS HELPFUL TO HER SITUATION????  They aren’t.   It’s just you dumping on someone with a great big “Serves you right!!!”, without having any background on this person’s situation.   So, as far as I’m concerned, you’re irrelevant…….. you and your perfect life with your perfect child rearing.   And for the record, My brothers and I were addicted to video games growing up.   None of us play them anymore, and all five of us have had stable jobs for the past 20 years.   The problem isn’t the video game playing, nor if he was allowed to excessively play them as a child.  The problem is something else much more complex and difficult.  The video game playing is a symptom, not the cause of  the problem.   And you’re too righteous to figure that out.

        • avatar ToniH says:

          Actually, my DH didn’t start playing video games until he was in his 30s. The way I look at it is that it’s a lot cheaper in the long run & a LOT safer than him turning to drugs/alcohol. But, at the same time, when he’s in his video game mood, he doesn’t do squat around the house, so I have to honestly treat him like a 10 year old & give him time limits and use the game console (right now it’s a PS3) as a reward (“you can play game for 1 hour AFTER dishes are done” type thing.). Works for us. And I play games too (Xbox 360 or my ancient Atari). And we have no skinkids. Keeps us young. :)

      • avatar htimsr40 says:


        Kate sounds estranged from her entire family and her attitude sounds angry and irrational. There are PLENTY of kids who pick up “addictions” in college, whether that is to video games, alcohol or anything else. Her response to you below just further paints the picture of her own emotional immaturity.

        She knows everything … including when this particular kid picked up his habit … and she can’t possibly be wrong. “and I am sorry – a college age student does not just develop a video game addiction – he or she has had it for years and parents have indulged it”.

        Yep, if I were one of her siblings, we would be estranged as well. I am guessing her mother showed “favoritism” to the more rational siblings.

    • avatar Drew Smith says:

      Sounds to me like Kate Olsen’s family background shed light on her answer to LW1.

      One does not turn their back on a child who is going through depression. Doesn’t matter how it is manifested.

  2. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    I’m going to applaud LW#1 for doing the tough love now instead of after the kid graduates.  Every bad habit has become an *addiction* in our culture.  I doubt the kid is clinically addicted…he just likes to play vfideo games and doesn’t like to work.  Maybe he never had household responsibilites  or even a paper route when growing up but at least LW #1 is making him grow up now.

    Yes..the economy sucks right now.  Jobs are not easy to find.  But I bet you he could get a paper route or find a job at a local fast food place if he didn’t feel it was beneath his dignity.  Or start a lawn service.  If he cannot find a paying job, there are all sorts of charties who would appreciate his time. 

    LW#2:  I would just try to find a way to let this go.  Get some counselling if you think you need it to do so.  Estrangement from family is tragic and heartbreaking but it happens. 

    • avatar Amy says:

      Kat, you nailed it right on the head. I couldn’t have put it more succinctly. :)

    • avatar amw says:

      I thought the same thing…or even a summer internship that would help him gain some experience that he could put on a resume in the future. And since he likes video games, he may look into a career that incorporates his love of the game while still requiring dedication and commitment to the job at hand. A lot depends on where he lives, but I know the gaming industry has a couple offices in my area. I’ve suggested this to many people fresh out of school. It’s networking and helps you decide if that’s really the career path you want to take.

      As usual, great answer!

  3. avatar Mush says:

    LW1- If the summer is short and he is having trouble in school, for whatever reason, then maybe he just really needs and wants a bit of time off. I dont see how kicking him out is helpful to him or sets a good example to the younger kids.

    LW2- There is a good possibility the bad sister has a mental illness such as borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder. Dramatic mood swings is not the norm. If it is such, then she needs help.  

    • avatar Amy says:

      Really, Mush? The kid refuses to work, doesn’t do anything but sit there and expect the world to cater to his every whim and you think he needs a break? Please. He needs to grow up and start living in the real world, which means earning your own keep.

      To LW#2, they are both in their twilight years and this has been a lifelong conflict. It seems clear the sister does not want to seek help, and I think that the poor woman needs to save her own sanity and try to let things go, perhaps go to therapy herself and try to find peace of mind.

      • avatar LuckySeven says:

        Well, it’s only a good idea if he’s just lazy. If he’s depressed, it’s a terrible thing to do to a kid who needs help–nothing like having your own parents kick you while you’re down. The catch 22 with depression is that, when you need to get help, you don’t because you can’t see how it will do any good. Many people need outside intervention, and asking someone that young, who is probably still dependent on his parents for healthcare, is not very fair.

        As for LW2, I would cut the sister loose. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were bipolar or had something else going on, but there isn’t anything the LW can do about that if the sister is unwilling to do anything about it. Better not to subject herself to the abuse.

      • avatar amw says:

        Too many kids these days seem to think they are entitled to free room and board and should have the option to play house bum for as long as they see fit.

        It’s the same concept as chores growing up…parenting is about preparing the child for life. Lessons learned. LW1 taught her son a big lesson…nothing comes free. If you want something, you must work for it. End of story.

        • avatar moonrevenge says:

          “Too many kids these days seem to think they are entitled to free room and board and should have the option to play house bum for as long as they see fit. ”

          The funniest example I’ve heard of involved a high schooler who complained to his mom (who worked full time outside of the home) that he worked hard at school and he deserved a day off, therefore she was a tyrant for making him do chores.

      • avatar sadrunner says:

        LOL…is 60’s considered the “twilight years”? Amy I have really loved all your comments today, but that one made me laugh! I always thought the twilight years were more like when you’re70 or 80.

        • avatar Lilibet says:

          I laughed about that too, Sadrunner. :-) At 65, I hope twilight is still a few years off. I feel more like “late afternoon” LOL. But in fairness to Amy, whose comments have been excellent, I do remember thinking that people in their 40’s were pretty old when I was in my 20’s. Now the ones in their 40’s seem like kids (my daughter is 40). Funny how our perspective changes!

    • avatar Rita@ Goldivas says:

      I agree Mush, LW1 may be too harsh. A college student who is “lazy” now doesn’t mean he will be that way for the rest of his life. Boys in their late teens don’t the stanima of an adult, and their brians mature at their own pace. That doesn’t mean let him off the hook totally, but LW1 could mellow out a little. With so many adults out of work now, a summer job may just not be available.

      • avatar Rita@ Goldivas says:

        “Brains”, not “brians”.

      • avatar D C says:

        Boys in their late teens don’t have the stamina of an adult?  I wish someone would tell that to my 18 year old son — then maybe I’d actually get to see his face once in a while. 

      • avatar moonrevenge says:

        “Boys in their late teens don’t the stanima of an adult,”

        As proven by the number of male freshmen who are up all night partying with their friends. Oh, wait…

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        “With so many adults out of work now, a summer job may just not be available.”

        This is especially true if you refuse to look for one—like LW1’s son.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Mush: regarding L#2: people with borderline personality disorder don’t have mood swings…they manufacture all sorts of manipulative behaviors in order to get their way. As one of the most dangerous Axis II disorders, it is almost impossible to treat with therapy, as those with the disorder are amazingly self-aware, and will resist any and all attempts at redirection. Bi-polar disorder does not automatically cause “mood swings”. It depends on a diagnosis of bi-polar i or II, rapid or slow cycling, and a number of other factors.

      I do so enjoy when people decide that someone must be mentally ill because they are an argumentative, difficult, perhaps bitter and vindictive ass-hat. These siblings are in their 60’s, and the issue seems to be personal, not psychiatric. I have a sister with whom I have a similarly uneasy relationship. All I can say to LW2 is this: when you feel the distant, earl warnings…find a way to end the conversation. My sister and I are 50 and 52 respectively, and it’s taken me till very recently to learn that it is impossible to have a real, meaningful, conversation with her. Too much history. Give yourself the permission to not do this anymore, and you will be surprised at how freeing it is.

      AS for L#1: He just wants to relax and chill, while wafting his emo waves of negativity around the house, and making everyone else miserable, and that should be fine, as, because he is a tender college student, he’s entitled. There is nothing worse than having a misery-monkey young adult lolling around uselessly, expecting everyone to put up with his torpid, stultifying presence. He needed to get out, get a job, find something to do. LW1 was fine with giving his behind the boot, and it is also fine that she is worried.

  4. avatar Constance Plank says:


    My two girls have been told that they are welcome in my home after they are of age as long as they are helpful, responsible and pleasant. That includes carrying their own weight in the house. If the college student is playing games rather than working, I’d be inclined to take the computer or video system away, before kicking him or her out, but my guess is that the story has many more layers to it than the one we’ve read.

    I would, and will, kick my beloved children out of my nest, if that is what they need in order to grow up! I know that the sooner the adult child gets a grip about adult responsibilities the better! I was married to an entitled person for 23 hideous years, and he still feels entitled at almost 54. Even his doting parents have stopped indulging him, after 4 years of him living with them after he *finally* left us.

    They would have done better to stop his entitlement in his teens the first, or second, or third, or fourth time- well, you get the idea- when he messed up royally. Instead, at 54, he’s finally having to take care of himself, and his own errors.

    I’ve just had an awful week with my 16 year old daughter, who was an utter (insert epithet here.) She’s without speakers for the next perceivable while for playing loud music at 11 p.m., she lost her new laptop to me, until her room is clean, and two of her “aunties by affection” have given her severe lectures on appropriate dealings with her mother, and what her responsibilities are, due to last night’s extreme rudeness. We will be fine eventually, but meanwhile, it’s my goal to raise a responsible, loving and polite member of society.

    I’ll do whatever is necessary in order to achieve that goal. I love my two daughters more than my breath, but I am not their friend; I am their mother. Therefore I keep the greater good in mind. Even when it would be a lot easier to have a spine of silk versus a spine of steel.

    Parenting is not for the faint of heart.


    Family can be difficult. If you know that a well is empty, why do you keep taking a bucket to the empty well, hoping that this time there will be water? Been there, done that. The well is still dry.

    We have family by blood, and we have family by gift. My friends are far better family to me than the family I was born into ever was. I love the family I was given.


    Constance in the Sierra Foothills of CA

    • avatar Kate Olsen says:

      Amen for you.  My children grew up looking at “uncles” who in their 20’s lived at home.  One was indulged to extremes – he would not eat the food cooked nightly and had to have “special food” purchased for him – ie – junk – the other one did chores around the house and did odd jobs until he found gainful employment – and even with his odd jobs, gave his parents half of what he made.  Upon seeing that, my two boys were brought up under the following rules.  When you turn 18 – get a job, get an apartment and get out, unless you are going to college – then we will help as much as we can, but with the economy, you need to get good grades and gert grants.  I am the proud mother of an Army MP and my other son has been gainfully employed for years. 

      Other than what bamabob insuates – children do need to be taught and have consequences – and I am sorry – a college age student does not just develop a video game addiction – he or she has had it for years and parents have indulged it

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        “…and I am sorry – a college age student does not just develop a video game addiction – he or she has had it for y