How to help kids who are hooked on online gaming

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How to help kids who are hooked on online gaming

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: The American Journal of Family Therapy. Understanding Online Gaming Addiction and Treatment Issues for Adolescents by Kimberely Young.


  1. Mother February 7, 2013 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    Hi I am the mother in the news story. I think its great you are trying to advise people, but my experience is:
    1) for me and many others, there was no second parent to help
    2) educational games are where he started. I feel that the experience of getting joy from in game reward (even it if was for genuine learning) is not much different from ‘for fun’ video games.
    3) if someone already has an addiction, then time limits are no longer enforceable. As you listed above, there is defensiveness and anger. Once my son was bigger than me, time limits were not in my control
    4) once addiction is evident, they have usually already dropped out of school and are unable to trade out of it.

    While your suggestions are helpful for pre-addiction management of day to day gaming for kids, I personally dont find them useful for a genuine, already addicted gamer.

    However, keep at it, we really need experts like yourself working on this.

    Kind regards, the mother.

    • Dr Ramesh Manocha February 7, 2013 at 11:32 pm - Reply


      Thankyou so much for taking the time to read the article. You have pointed out some important considerations which i think come down to differentiating between “prevention” and “intervention”. I will ask the writer to respond.

      Kind regards

      Dr Ramesh Manocha

    • Head out of the Sand July 27, 2015 at 5:51 am - Reply

      Hi Mother, your comments are very meaningful.

      I agree that for some unlucky children and adult children that have a problem gaming and with computers, the only way to get recovery is for them to abstain from gaming and computers. They won’t or can’t do it on their own.The adults must take charge in the home and lock away devices if necessary. Maybe find a therapist who actually understands addiction and doesn’t say to keep feeding them “digital crack”. They need to come off digital drugs if they cannot moderate. This requires planning in advance. You can read stories by parents who have lived through very difficult situations with success on the Olganon website. There is hope if you are prepared to engage. But make careful plans first.

  2. Katrina February 14, 2013 at 11:50 am - Reply

    I completely agree with the mother’s comments. I am battling with my son’s Internet addiction at present. I have seen a beautiful, kind young boy turn into someone who is highly manipulative and quite explosive. Withholding the Internet is akin to the world ending for him. Where is best to access help/ intervention? Most psychologist have no specialist knowledge in this area.

    Another concerned mother

    • Dr Ramesh Manocha February 18, 2013 at 11:39 pm - Reply

      Dear Concerned Mother

      There are some reputable experts who are dealing with this problem in Australia. One of them is Dr Philip Tam, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Sydney. You can also contact NIIRA, a reputable organisation set up by Phillip and a number of his colleagues to assist people in dealing with this growing problem

      Let me know how you go!


    • Dr Ramesh Manocha February 18, 2013 at 11:40 pm - Reply

      Dear Concerned Mother

      There are some reputable experts who are dealing with this problem in Australia. One of them is Dr Philip Tam, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Sydney. You can also contact NIIRA, a reputable organisation set up by Phillip and a number of his colleagues to assist people in dealing with this growing problem go to

      Let me know how you go!


  3. Nicky January 7, 2014 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    I am also a mother of an 18yr old son who is a gaming addict. It is very serious and need help asap. So worried for his future. I need someone to talk to and am desperate for intervention.

  4. Millie July 31, 2014 at 10:58 pm - Reply

    I am also a mother of 16yrs old boy who always play games and doesn’t do any of his school work. He goes to school when he feels like it.His teachers and school counselor already talked to him but he still not listening.He is very aggressive if tell him to stop gaming. I really fear for his future and health as he goes to bed at 3am. I have done all the possible ways to stop him. I am stressed and desperate for help.

  5. Alyce September 7, 2014 at 11:17 pm - Reply

    I have a 16yo boy whose addiction now reach level of intolerance to have any parent nearby. He attack if refused wifi device n locked himself in without food n fluud over ling period of time. This happened over less than 2 years. We dud everything. He just getting worse. He charge at us the minute we try to get help aling with many other tgread. We are prisoner to our own boy emotionally n physically at time. We are near breaking point. And he has no sign of slowing down. I am sure you would understand if i said that my family is now deep into our grave if no real help come forward.

  6. Red September 14, 2014 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    I so hear you all and thanks for courage to write here, my son is almost 14 and since a playstation since almsot a year has changed incredibly. He is gifted and grades are great at school, he has mental health issues due to many reasons acculmative from inconsistent and conflicting parents, he is in shared care and both parents have still different styles. Today he admitted he has an addiction, i think that is the first step of many and remain hopeful that help can be given at this early stage. Lastly, not long after acknowledging his addiction he went into denial of it, the journey is a challenging one for all. Thanks again for sharing your stories.

  7. Stella October 15, 2014 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    I am an aunty of a 15 year old boy. He is addicted to games. His mother and father have recently divorced. He is staying with his mother and two younger siblings. His mother is having a hard time trying to keep him under control. He is anti social, violent to the two younger siblings and often not truthful to us in order to get his way to play games. His mother and I would much appreciate some help.

  8. lina October 24, 2014 at 9:20 am - Reply

    Hi my name is Lina, I feel helpless, distressed as I am a sole parent of a 41 year old son who is extremely addicted to gaming. He spends all of his waking hour playing, he does not work, He suffers from several mental health disorders as well as serious health issues such as: very high blood pressure and high cholesterol, very dis-coloured and swollen feet,also overweight. His not on any financial assistance from the government as he believes the government is evil, but happy to be dependent on me financially. His addiction is getting worse and it’s been going on for a approximately 5 years. I’ve been seeing a psychologist for support, but unfortunately I’ve been told that at 40 years, he is too old for help, I am finding that I am not getting anywhere. I recently had taken other stand and told my son that I was not going to be part of his problem and I was no longer going to paying for the internet, but upon discussing it with the psychologist she felt that I needed to seriously think before acting on it, as the gaming was all his interest in life and by taking it away could led to more serious problem, such a suicide. I am so desperate, depressed and it’s affecting my work. I leave in fear, thinking I am going to come home and find him dead. Could someone help! I don’t know how to deal with this or what to do, where to go for support as I believe not all psychologist understand gaming addiction.

    • AnonymousA April 27, 2015 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      Please don’t take to the heart but I think even if he is like that just let him be. Sometime he’ll realised his mistake and may not open up for you but… I think he know his wrong, in saying this I can’t guarantee that I am right. I mean I ain’t him nor can I be. I know that is rude but at the current moment I couldn’t find any words to replace in.
      Yes in many cases you are right about things but however, even if he doesn’t care or neglect you just support him in a way he’ll realised his mistake.
      Know this though, never ever force a gamer ok. Once you do it’ll be the end of the world for you and him.
      I am currently an otaku, meaning a gamer, manga (comic) fans, online spender and therefore I am currently speaking to you with all honesty from My experience.

  9. AnonymousA April 27, 2015 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    Tbh, I don’t really think any suggestion or help of needed. I mean, I am an otaku, love reading manga, watching TV and wasting my time in the Internet.
    Yes, it is true that most of the time, most, I may neglect my family as well as throw a tantrum but however, I ain’t sure of all or any otaku do it but I take my time recapping what is happened.
    I am 17, and yes, I am a student, and I am an otaku. I ain’t lying. But considering that I do take time to reflect on my issue.
    Just now I’ve got a fight with my sis, about talking to someone rather than studying. She doesn’t know, that what I am actually focusing on is something else.
    I am annoyed and pissed off right now, even though logically they are right and I am wrong. It doesn’t apply to the fact that she could nose around me.
    I personally despises that. I mean, yes of course I do to nose around others situation. And yes I am inconsiderate in others point of view or maybe I am just annoyed at certainty of people saying or trying to point of my wrong.
    I know that they cared, but a lot of time I want to figure out my wrong myself, my way without holding back my feeling at that point of time and my thoughts.
    Many may say this is the effect of spending too much time on online and all, but think about it…. it’s not because I am too focus on online or Internet. It happen so, that at the time being I would like to be alone. It’s me I like being alone because I tend to think a lot when I am alone.
    In saying this, non of this has any relationship with gaming, Internet spending or any… it only has involvement with my point of view on the scenario.
    Yes, this is also an addiction I must say, because I can’t do anything without music; my music. However, there will be time when I can’t use it and I maybe upset and miss it but that certainly do not count on my bad attitude for my social life or the environment because of being otaku.
    Overall, what I am trying to say is that, it’s you. Whether your musicians, an otaku, a fighter who ever you may be… Addiction rally comes from you. All you need to do is considered controlling yourself. That is all really… I mean it.
    Ok, I mean this and I ain’t going to lie but… I don’t take sides, any side I am even but mostly with my family and myself I tend to take side to I guess shelter myself. But… But, this still doesn’t apply to the fact this is the cause of spending too much time on online. Yes, what the mother point out was an exact answer because that’s what I do. But… I really don’t think anything or treatment would help otaku. Once an otaku, it’s an otaku. Once a fan always bad or good a fan is a fan. So… I guess yeah you can’t force them or change them let them be, soon they’ll realised it for themselves. Like me…
    It may take time but it’ll be a good cause or not…

  10. Desperatemum February 10, 2016 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing the stories.

    I’m a mother of 13 years old boy.

    He has experienced symptoms of depression, anti social and online gaming addiction. He used to be a kind hearted and considerable person. Since the gaming addiction, he has become aggressive, intolerable and have missed school very frequently. He even does not care about his personal hygiene.

    I have tried to stop the internet with the software time limitation and other means without success.
    I’m desperate and distressful as other mothers who have the same issue.

    Would the Australian government help to intervene with the online gaming websites?

    Need adult permission authorisation and time limit to play on these addictive gaming web sites eg. League of Legend to name one of them.

  11. Karen March 13, 2016 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    Im too a mother of 13yr old that is addicted to gaming. He has always been an introvert and and never invited friends over unless i organise. He uses gamjng on xbox one as a social challenge with these virtual friends. He becomes another person when online, his diet and hygeine suffers. He is rude loud and obnoxious plus gets physical with me when i attempt to switch off the device. When have almost always talked to him in a lovingly manner to stop or discuss limitations – he does not participate in discussions. We seriously need to see a specialist. He school work is suffering plus the rest of the household is very unhappy. This cannot go on as it is.

  12. Carol March 6, 2018 at 11:43 am - Reply

    My son is now 19 and has had one year out in the work force. We sent him to a remote property in the hope there was not internet but in this day and age most employees want some form of internet to speak to people and stay in touch. For the first 6 months he was great. Loved it. 12 mnths loved it but he was able to still game. he would have weeks out in camp and not game but as soon as he got back to the homestead straight onto the games. His boss just rang me and said he is going to let him go because he now doesn’t get out of bed. Won’t do much work. Disappears for hours – yes what is he doing. Playing games. The boss has now taken all his hardware off him and I am now being totally abused, telling me I can’t do this because he is old enough. I am now searching for some help for him but it would have to be a clinic and I can’t find one in my state and I live out in the country. Anyone know where I might be able to get help in Qld as the boss has said if we can get him help he will take him back.

  13. Susan March 27, 2018 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    I’m so sad to see many of us in such dire straits with our beautiful children, my heart breaks for us all 😢💔 I hope we all find the help and support we all are so desperate for… it looks like we are going to need gaming addiction clinics shortly 😢

  14. dianne May 18, 2018 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    My 11 year old has been addicted to Xbox for 8 years. the world ends if he cannot play and the incessant asking is enough to make me want to hide!
    Every waking thought is consumed by gaming. all chatter is about games even though he knows its not allowed & I don’t want to hear about it all day.
    i am finding no help anywhere and the website listed above only has practitioners in NSW & VIC.
    we don’t need advice we need help!

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