"Just five more minutes, Mom": when your child is a gaming addict

  1. Mar 04, 2019

    Many parents get worried when their teenage child comes home from school and immediately goes to the computer, ignoring any requests to have dinner, do homework or help around the house. If a child spends 5-8 hours in front of a PC every day, and late at night on weekends, if he/she has become explosive and rude and has started to eat and sleep poorly, you should definitely pay attention. It is quite likely that your child’s fascination with games and the internet has become an addiction the child is unable to control.

    Sometimes children themselves notice the issue but cannot do anything about it. Here is a post from a community Ru_psiholog:

    “My son spends a lot of time in front of his PC. On weekends he plays for around 4-5 hours, while on weekdays he stays up late, until 1 or 2 AM, even though he has school. He barely talks to his friends even on social network. My son admits that he often goes to the PC because he is bored and has nothing else to do, he even asked me to forcefully shut down his PC at 10 PM and make him go to sleep. I refused, because I knew that such actions will be followed by a tantrum. Other than that, he is just a normal boy: he has good grades, the wakes up and goes to school on time.”

    According to WCIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center), Russians consider the internet (75%) and gaming addiction (77%) more detrimental to young people’s wellbeing than alcohol and drug addictions (65%). At the same time, the percentage of gaming addicts in the world is not that high: According to psychiatrist Natalia Shemchuk it is only 3-5% of population.

    Teenagers are at risk of developing this addiction, especially those who display the signs of psychasthenia (low working efficiency, anxiety, getting tired easily). [2]

    Despite a relatively modest number of people with this problem, the WHO has officially recognized gaming addiction as a disease. In 2018 it was included in the ICD. [1] This means that now this problem can be diagnosed and treated by psychiatrists, who are able to develop individual approaches and treatment schedules for people with computer addiction.

    Contents:

    1. Signs of computer addiction: when you should start to worry
    2. Developing a proper attitude to help a child
    3. Solution to a problem

Signs of computer addiction: when you should start to worry

When a child spends more than two hours a day at the computer, parents obviously start to worry that he/she will develop bad eyesight, bad posture, bad sleeping habits and lose interest towards other things. What should they do then? Should they forbid their children to use the PC, switch the internet off, yell, or maybe go to a psychologist immediately?

There are several signs that can help you find out whether a teenager has simply been carried away by an interesting game or online conversation, or that they have become addicted and cannot control themselves.

1. A child spends more than 4 hours at the PC daily.

To be more exact, we are talking about more than 257 minutes a day. Researchers from the University of Oxford discovered that this is precisely the amount of time in a single day that will not harm a teenager.

If a child spends more than the allowed time in front of a PC (perhaps 5 to 8 hours instead of 4) and reacts violently when parents come and tell them to stop playing, it is definitely not normal. [1]

2.A child disregards their schedule and skips important duties

A child may start to sleep poorly, skip school (or pretend to go to deceive parents), forget about homework and eat only the food their parents bring to them. When the parents ask a child to help in the home, ask them to do their homework or go to sleep, a child might react aggressively, throw a tantrum or even declare a boycott. For example, a child could refuse any food until they are allowed to finish an online game.

3.A child reacts aggressively to a loss in the game

It’s fine if a teenager is simply displeased, blaming their mouse or keyboard. But if a child starts to yell, break their chair, curse, smash their head against a table or a wall, punch a keyboard or a monitor – it is definitely not fine. A simple loss in a game should not prompt a strong reaction and affect the mood that much.

The same aggressive reaction can appear at any time, the only limitations coming from parents and relatives.

Here is a story from a forum of a female magazine Women.ru:

“My son is 15, he is strong and stubborn. He spends several hours a day gaming, and during the weekend he may even do this for the whole day. I tried to forbid him and punish him, but it didn’t work, he simply yells, tries to protect himself and then he just does everything as before. I once pulled out all the cables, and he then threw an enormous tantrum, yelling and shaking like crazy. I can see his mental state slowly deteriorating: he has insomnia and I often hear him talking to himself. He has become very nervous.”

4.A child limits their social interaction

A child may be friends with other gamers or even have no friends at all – diving deep into the world of games. You can often see this scenario: a teenager’s friend comes to visit, they switch on a gaming console and just sit there until evening, barely talking to each other, aside from random shouts. If you suggest that they go to play outside, they will ignore it. At best, they may go to another friend’s house and continue there.

5.Apathy and lack of interest to the world outside the PC.

When a child is not at the PC, they become sad and it is almost impossible to make them interested or entertained with anything else. A child may become feeble, apathetic, absentminded and may find it very difficult to focus on their studies. However, once they start to play, they suddenly become energetic, agitated and thrilled.

If a teenager plays a lot and for long periods of time, this can affect both their mental (neurosis, brain fag) and physical state. They can develop bad eyesight, poor posture, lose weight, become tired easier and be more prone to diseases.

A comment from Natalia Shemchuk, a psychiatrist and MD–PhD.

“The consequences of computer addiction are catastrophic. The flickering screen and sharp sounds affect the brain’s bioelectric potential. If a child has experienced hypoxia (regardless of the cause) or sleepwalking then playing for 5-7 hours a day can lead to epileptic seizures.

Gaming addiction can also be the cause of psychosis and/or psychoemotional agitation. This is when a child fights their parents and smashes things, which is dangerous both for the child and everyone around. Also, the loss of social connections and consequent degradation go without saying – it is common knowledge.”

Developing a proper attitude to help your child

Our first reaction is often to prohibit, pull out all the cables, hide or even break a laptop. Some people may even punish the child by sending them to their grandparents deep in a countryside with no internet connection. Do not make drastic  decisions in an agitated state: you can make serious mistakes and  make the situation worse. Just remind yourself how you scroll your social media feed or watch a series non-stop and imagine how hard it would be for a teenager to stop doing the same thing. You shouldn’t prohibit anything, but rather help your child change their mode of behavior and switch their attention to other activities.

Try playing yourself

If your child is simply fascinated with games, but they still maintain interest towards the outer world and talk to their parents, you don’t have to resort to lectures, yelling and other harsh methods. You can simply have a conversation. Ask your child about their favorite game, their playable character, its abilities and level. You can even sit down and play together for a while. This will help you build their trust, and later you can offer them another similar activity. [4]

A comment from Aleksandr Lobok, PhD in philosophy and pedagogics:

“Sometimes parents come to me and say that their child is interested only in computer games. I ask them: “What games does your child play? What is so interesting about those games? What is he doing while playing them?” I often find out that parents have no idea about these things. They don’t have the slightest idea that their child perhaps reproduces their stress and fears within the game. A child always imagines things while playing. Through a game, many children try to solve their own psychological issues.”

Negotiate rather than forbid

Schoolchildren like to have some freedom, when they can make their own decisions in the same way as adults. If the parents strictly prohibit a child to use a PC, he/she will rebel and try to fight for their right. Instead of forbidding, try negotiating: [4]

  • create a contract together with your child featuring the important rules, and sign it;
  • introduce a system of rewards and punishments in form of game time;
  • set a timer or an alarm clock that will signal the time to finish playing;
  • help your child organize their schedule, including the time for games, studies and outside activities;
  • hang a poster nearby, reminding your child to stretch and do some exercise for their eyes, etc.

Search for another hobby together

If a child has developed a passion towards computer games, then it is likely they have failed to find any other interesting activity. Search for a suitable club or some courses. It is important to make your child understand why they need other pursuits. [5] For example, if you prompt your child to take a course in a foreign language, tell them it will help to enter a university or go to a language camp abroad. If your child learns to dance, their goal could be to make new friends, become a famous dancer or perform in other cities.

A comment from Natalia Shemchuk, a psychiatrist and MD–PhD.

“When children attend courses and clubs within a chain of studies and entertainment without a concrete goal, they begin to ask themselves: “Why am I doing all this?” They must have at least two hours of free time in their daily schedule for some activities they want to do, even playing on PC.

Solution to a problem

It can be hard to banish computer addiction without qualified support. You may need to consult a child psychologist or therapist about addiction and obsession with gaming. A specialist can administer psychotropic agents and medication to improve blood flow and brain performance. Medication can reduce anxiety in the patient, making it easier for a psychologist to administer further treatment. [5]

One of the safest and most advanced methods to eliminate computer addiction is the 7Spsy technique for changing behavior patterns, based on behavior psychology. This method can help you correct your child’s behavior and mindset quickly and without side effects. After completing this course, a teenager will be able to sort out their priorities with hobbies, studies and communication with peers.

The course of behavior modification lasts from 2 to 6 weeks. A psychologist sets the length of the course after diagnostic testing. You will not have to take time off work to take your child to a psychologist. A teenager can pass the course independently at home whenever they want, following clear instructions while consulting a psychologist in an online chat when needed.

Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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