For many young players it is the ‘fantasy world’ of the game that attracts them and it is this that they become addicted to; they would rather live in a world of online games than participate in the real world around them. This is especially true of RPG’s (role playing games) where the player morphs into a fictional character and interacts with other players in a virtual world.

Spending all day every day on gaming or surfing the internet can adversely affect a young person’s emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual development.  Experts agree that the portrayal of violence in the media (music, games, TV and films), desensitises children to the effects of violence and can lead to aggressive behaviour. After sometime violence offline can seem “normal.”

Warning Signs of Internet addiction

According to the American Psychiatric Association, internet addiction includes:

  • Playing for increasing amounts of time
  • Thinking about gaming during other activities
  • Having withdrawal symptoms; anxiety, moodiness and aggression
  • Gaming to escape from real-life problems, and
  • Withdrawal from social interaction, family, school and friends so they can go online.

Parents need to keep in mind the question – “Can my child always control their gaming activity?” if the answer is ‘no’ then they may be addicted.

At the same time, parents and teachers need to understand young people’s affinity for technology. This digital divide where teenagers are digital natives (this technology is second nature to them) and parents/teachers are seen as digital immigrants (people who grew up before the age of new media) can often cause family/classroom arguments, non communication, defiance and disharmony.

Prevention and harm minimisation:

  • Understand that today most children communicate, create, socialise, post photos, explore, listen to music, and learn online.
  • Take TV’s and video game consoles out of a child’s bedroom.
  • Don’t dismiss the importance of new media; is the world they are growing up in.
  • Discuss why they like playing certain violent video games.
  • Find out what games are played, how much time is spent, when and where they play, and who they are playing with.
  • Agree on time limits with your child rather than coming up with your own limits.
  • Make a balance between online and offline activities.
  • Learn about rating of games for violence and offensive content.
  • Replace violent video games with non-violent, stimulating educational and interactive video games, which are fun and challenging.
  • Don’t expose children (under 10 years) to any violent content in entertainment.
  • Watch age-appropriate shows together, as a family.
  • Don’t turn on the TV before school and turn it off well before bedtime.
  • Discuss how the content of the media they see does or does not reflect the values of your family.
  • Teach children how to define their values and how to make good choices.

Smith & Jones Addiction Consultants in Amsterdam recently introduced a new program to treat addiction to violent video games as a response to a growing problem among young people. It works like many other ‘detox’ programs. “The more we looked at it, the more we saw [gaming] was taking over the lives of kids,” said Keith Bakker, director.

 

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: Center for On-Line Addiction, Smith & Jones Consultants.

Dr Wayne Warburton, author, (Growing Up Fast and Furious: Reviewing the Impacts of Violent and Sexualised Media on Children) psychologist and Generation Next speaker will be speaking on the influence of violent videogames on behaviour at this year’s Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People Seminars around the country.