Gaming addiction is on the rise, especially among adolescents. The difficulty in dealing with this growing concern is that adolescents suffering from such an affliction are often identified when the problem is already very complex and they have started missing school to feed their addiction. This highlights the important role parents play in preventing the problem from reaching the point of no return.
Signs to look out for
There are several warning signs of gaming addiction of which parents should be aware of. Adolescents with internet gaming disorder show classic signs of addiction, for instance:
· they become preoccupied with gaming
· they lie about their gaming use
· they lose interest in other activities having been socially active in the past
· they withdraw from friends and family
· they have difficulty communicating with others
· they use gaming as a means of procrastination or escaping difficult tasks ahead, like exams.
How to help
One way of helping adolescents escape the clutches of gaming addiction is to provide alternative venues of social connection organised specifically to address their social skills and communication competence.
Internet-addicted adolescents need to feel that they are not alone in their situation. Bringing them together and coaching them through various social skills could help them develop friendships with peers who have similar interests.
These young adults need a lot of support throughout the process since often they retreated to the online world following failed attempts at social interaction in real life.
Gaming is often a form of escapism and therefore parents and professionals should consider the underlying issues that have pushed the adolescents in question towards their addiction. Adolescents addicted to gaming need to work on self-esteem issues by acquiring social and problem-solving skills in a non-gaming environment. Parental vigilance is also vital to allow intervention before the problem is exacerbated further. Parents should not enable their adolescent’s behavior by providing excuses for them to miss school.
Who’s at risk?
Adolescents are more at risk than others to develop internet addiction, especially when there is a problem with social and communication skills. In Malta so far there has been no effort to target internet addicted adolescents, as efforts on a local level are more focused on another very serious concern, i.e. sexual exploitation of minors through the internet.
The way forward
It is difficult for an adolescent to recover from gaming addiction because using a computer is a necessary part of home and school life. Also, very often, adolescents are referred for help involuntarily and when asked about what they think their difficulty entails, their usual answer is that the referrer overreacted to his/her actual use of internet.
Also important is the use of prevention programs in schools and communities. There needs to be awareness-raising on the extent of such a problem and how to best prevent it. Practice has shown that very little can be done once the adolescent starts missing school because of gaming addiction. Prevention programs such as widespread information seminars, parenting skills programs, social skills training and the like, on the other hand, may not only be more effective in the long-run, but also may reach out to children and adolescents who have not yet arrived to the point of addiction.
Bio: Bianca Chircop is a school social worker within the Church School Social Work Service at the Secretariat for Catholic Education. She has graduated in social work in 2004, and has obtained a Postgraduate Certificate and Diploma in Family Therapy (Tavistock-Appogg). Currently she is reading for her Masters in Social Work with Children and Families at the University of Malta.