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29th Apr 2024

‘My 13-year-old son is addicted to video games – what do I do?’

Jody Coffey

Young people and teenagers today are becoming more and more engrossed in the online world of gaming.

In fact, Irish psychiatrists now treat a gaming addiction as a disorder after the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised it as one in 2018.

This growing trend can be worrisome for parents, as the symptoms and signs of a gaming addition may cause negative changes in a young person’s behaviour in the real world.

One concerned parent took to the internet to find solutions for her son’s ‘computer game addiction’, as anytime she tried to limit his online activity, it would result in arguments.

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“If I let him, he will play on the computer ALL day. When I tell him he can’t play on the computer, he will argue with me continuously,” they wrote on Reddit.

The parent added that the amount of time her son was devoting to gaming began bleeding into his schoolwork.

“He recently got an F on a history project because he did it at the last minute because he spent all his time playing on the computer.

“I try to encourage him to find a hobby, to go outside and play, to read a book – pretty much anything that does not involve sitting in front of a computer playing games all day.”

At their wits end, exhausted from ‘constantly’ arguing with him ‘over computers’, the worried parent had enough and decided to ask other parents who may have experienced the same and came out the other end.

“What do you do to limit the amount of computer playing time for your kids that have worked?” they asked.

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Other parents confessed to having the same issue and offered some useful advice to help in this regard.

“My son has a gaming addiction as well. We limit him to playing only on the weekends, period. If we catch him sneaking during the week then he will lose his weekend privileges for a long time,” one parent advised, emphasising the dangers of this addiction.

“We are otherwise very laid back parents, but have to draw the line at allowing our son to throw his life away to playing video games, which can destroy someone’s life every bit as much as any other addiction.”

Another parent suggested removing the computer from their bedroom and moving it to a common room in the house.

If that failed, they recommended unplugging it completely.

“Don’t make suggestions to get off and read a book or go outside for him to ignore. Turn off the wifi or shut it down, and let him be bored. He will find ways to occupy his time. Windows has options to help manage screen time as well.”

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A third user explained why it is so easy for children to get sucked into the gaming world and why it can be a near impossible task to break them away from it.

“The trouble is, kids are naturally good at video games. The games have rewards throughout their learning curve, that’s what makes them hard to compete with as a “hobby” or outlet,” they began.

“Video games bombard the player with dopamine the entire time they are played, even while learning. The games tend to start easy, they want you to learn quick, then the challenge progresses as does the dopamine response to succeeding within that realm.”

This user, who also had a gaming addiction in their younger years, said their parents willingness to say ‘yes’ to any hobby was the key to recovering from it.

This included more adrenaline-based and progressive hobbies such as skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, mountain biking, building or making, playing guitar, graphic art, and so on.

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In 2019, Dr. Gerry McCarney, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Chair of the College Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, appeared on an RTÉ Primetime report to discuss gaming addiction.

Dr. Carney likened a gaming addiction to a gambling addiction, as they have some similar telltale signs.

These include a withdrawal from communicating with the family, isolation, rejecting a request to go outside and do things, and, in some cases, children may opt not to come down for meals, instead choosing to eat at the desk they are playing at.

He suggests that, at this point, parents may need to consider starting a conversation about this behaviour.

“To put it simply, this becomes an issue when you can see harm happening because of a behaviour and the behaviour continues even though the harm is obvious.”