97% of children play video games*
2% are addicted

The recent story of an Adelaide mother who is struggling with her 17 year old son’s addiction to the online fantasy game Runescape probably rang alarm bells with many parents who suspect or know their teenager is in front of a screen far too often and for far too many hours at a time.

Research shows that in America 97% of all children play video games and 2% are addicted* . According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) in the USA 25% of players are under 18 years of age and 60% are male.

The American Psychiatric Association will add “internet use disorder” to the research appendix of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in May 2013. Dr King, researcher at the Adelaide University School of Psychology said “this is the first time internet-related disorders will be acknowledged in the DSA.”

Writing in the latest issue of the Royal Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Dr King confirmed that mental health experts are debating whether to define the illness as “internet addiction” or “video gaming addiction”.

The 5 tell tale signs of online gaming addiction
Pre-occupation with gaming and hiding gaming use
Social withdrawal or isolation
Disengagement from school life
Loss of interest in other activities
Defensiveness and anger

Tips on how to help teens with a gaming addiction
1. Parent tag team: it is important that both parents take the addiction seriously and back each other up. They must approach their child together so that the child knows they cannot divide and conquer their parents by playing one off against the other in an effort cover up their addiction, appealing to the weaker parent for support only enables the child to continue and to some extent hide their game playing from the other parent.

2. Encourage educational games: there are plenty of games that have an education base, encourage a child to play these instead of violent online games. There are also websites that engage players with other players from around the world to see who can complete educational tasks, like maths problems, the quickest. The participants are given points and can progress to different levels. It can give the player the same sense of empowerment, satisfaction and achievement as online commercial games.

3. Set time limits: parents need to establish clear time limits with a child. Enter into a contract if necessary. Sit down with the child and discuss what is a reasonable amount of time to play a game, by involving the teenager in the decision making process, they are more likely to adhere to the boundaries set.

4. Look for the school conntection: is a child turning to online games because they are not doing well at school? It is hard to tell what comes first: the poor marks or the online games. Not performing well at school impacts a child’s self-esteem. They may retreat more into the game to cope with negative feelings about themselves. At least in the virtual world they can control things. Try to encourage their studies and find out if they are finding any areas difficult.

*Pew Internet & American Life Project. USA

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: News.com. The American Journal of Family Therapy. Understanding Online Gaming Addiction and Treatment Issues for Adolescents by Kimberely Young.