By: Julian Jooste

As a parent you might have heard the words “World of Warcraft;  Call of Duty, or League of Legends”  being used by your teens.

For most teens video games, or rather “gaming”, can be an innocent past time.  But the reality is many teens are trapped in the online gaming world and struggling to maintain a healthy perspective on reality.

Video game addiction is a known problem worldwide although not an official psychiatric diagnosis yet.  Incidence and severity grew in the advent of broadband technology- games making the impossible possible, for instance the creation of avatars, ‘second life’ games, and MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games). Addicts of the games range from children to mature adults.

Causes of increased use:

Virtual achievements, online-social interaction, and escapism are the primary risk-factors that contribute to potential video game addiction.  Escapism is the biggest risk factor for pathological video game playing where teens  play games to escape from their daily life or from difficult emotions.  Teens who play games to socialize with other players seem to have more problems as well.  In the case of World of Warcraft, most players join guilds or teams. These guilds or teams impose a sort of social obligation on individuals to set aside a certain amount of time to play, or risk being cut from the team. The positive feedback loops or reward cycles of gratification in video games can also get teens stuck in a vicious cycle.  The reason why the gaming world is so enticing is the lack of limits and accountability.

Like any addiction, if the behaviour starts affecting day to day living, responsibilities, and relationships it may be a problem worth addressing.

Signs to look out for:

  • Lack of face to face social interaction.
  • Using the game for gratification or relief from stress.
  • Neglecting school work, and family time.
  • Spending increasing amounts of time and money on computer- related activities, gaming magazines, gaming software and hardware.
  • Lying about the amount of time spent on gaming activities.
  • Risking loss of educational objectives, personal relationships, or career goals.
  • Repeated failure to control amount of time spent on gaming.
  • Inability to find another activity of interest.
  • Feeling depressed, irritable, anxious, lonely, sad, and out of control when not playing, as well as an increase in procrastination, sleeping, mood swings, verbal abuse, and excessive crying.

Steps to take:

  • Notice what your child does when they return from school for a week.
  • Make a list of obligations with your child and list them in order of importance for every day.
  • Reward positive behaviours.
  • Set aside a certain amount of time for gaming and do not exceed that time.
  • Include family quality time activities.
  • Increase communication, with a particular focus on listening to what your child has to say and showing an interest in their lives.
  • Play “old-fashioned” board games as a family
  • Enrol your teen in sport, art, dance or music lessons.
  • Get volunteer work, for instance at an animal shelter.
  • Encourage a positive peer environment to build communication skills and to reduce social isolation.

Reach out:

  • Get professional input from a registered psychologist in the form of parental guidance.
  • Send your child for psychotherapy to address underlying emotional or behavioural issues, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD/ADD or defiance.
  • Improving parent-child relationships is an important aim and this can take the form of family interventions.