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Internet Addiction

How to Deal with Teenage Addiction to Online Gaming

Internet Addiction

Today’s youth have more choices of activities and entertainment alternatives as compared to the generations before. As youths become more digitally sophisticated, online gaming has become a popular choice of entertainment among them. However, in the past years, as more problems start to surface in relation to online gaming, there has been much concern arising among school counselors, teachers, youth workers and parents.
Mental health specialists in various parts of the world have also begun to develop treatment for Internet addiction, and research in this area has also emerged in recent years. Although it is difficult to establish exactly just how widespread Internet addiction may be in Singapore, a recent longitudinal study1 conducted among primary and secondary school students reported the prevalence of gaming addiction at about 9%. This is similar to the prevalence rates of between seven and 11.9% as reported in other countries.

Peer Acceptance
Thru Online Gaming
Looking at the variety and the new developments in video and online games that have sprung up in recent years, it is no wonder why just about anyone, and in particular youths, are attracted to this highly engaging, challenging and stimulating activity. The games nowadays are often beyond just being mindless activities, but actually require much strategic planning and skills advancement, and in many games, often involve teamwork among fellow game-players as well. Some online games involve analytical and problem-solving skills, which can allow youths to learn and develop these skills in the process of having fun. Online gaming, when done in moderation, can serve as an activity for leisure, learning and entertainment.
Adolescence is a challenging period when one seeks novelty and challenges in the process of forging one’s individuality. Adolescents also tend to place importance on peer acceptance and approval. Gaming online with peers can help foster social interaction through the online platforms in game-play. Online gaming then becomes a common interest topic which allows one to feel accepted within the peer group. In addition, it can serve to enhance one’s self-esteem when a youth becomes good and skilful in the game and perhaps even do well in gaming championships.
At the same time, online gaming has its negative consequences, especially when one develops Internet addiction. Internet use can include anything from surfing the net, to emailing and engaging in chatting and social networking services and of course, to online gaming. Internet addiction, though not a diagnosis within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), seems to share similar symptoms as other behavioral addictions.

When Gaming
Becomes Disruptive
When online gaming becomes more than a hobby and one starts to game excessively, serious problems and impairments can occur. Youths we have treated at the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) have reported many adverse effects from excessive gaming, such as a drop in school grades, or worse, suspension or expulsion from school. Some also neglected their self-care and personal hygiene.
In serious situations, with impairments to various aspects of one’s life, psychological disturbances such as anxiety and depression can also develop. Therefore, online gaming addiction can certainly be worrying, especially for parents. Parents can, in fact, play a huge role in helping to prevent or manage excessive gaming and gaming addiction. In preventing excessive gaming, parents can find ways to set limits and boundaries such as making agreements with the youth on hours spent on gaming, and ensuring that the youth includes time for other leisure activities, studies and other priorities. The key is not in merely limiting the hours spent on gaming, but also to include other activities and priorities to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Encouraging other healthy activities that include real-life interactions, e.g. sports, games, social gatherings with friends and family and excursions, can help to introduce more choices for leisure and entertainment for the youth. These also provide excellent opportunities to enhance family relationships and friendships, as well as for the child to develop critical social, problem-solving and stress-management skills to deal with real world problems.

Managing Your Kids’ Gaming Addiction
If a parent suspects that his/her youth is addicted to online gaming, the first thing to do would be to avoid over-reacting, but to remain calm and composed as one speaks to him/her in an open and clear manner, without sounding accusative or demanding. Parents may also want to speak to the youth to be open to seeking help. It may take continual motivation to prepare a youth to be open to receiving professional help. At the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS), we have counselors who specialise in working with children and adolescents facing addiction issues. Together with a multidisciplinary team of professionals, including psychiatrists, social workers, a family therapist and a psychologist, the counselors will work closely with the client and their parents/ caregivers as well to provide a comprehensive treatment service. Parents or anyone who wish to seek further professional advice and information may call our All Addictions Helpline on 6-RECOVER (6-732 6837). The helpline is manned by trained addictions counsellors from NAMS on Mondays to Fridays, 8.30am to 10.00pm. They may also log on to the NAMS website at http://www.nams.sg/ for more information.

Signs of Excessive Online Gaming
It is important too that parents monitor and look out for signs that may reveal that the youth is gaming excessively or has developed online gaming addiction. Some of these signs are:
• Preoccupation with online gaming activity
• Spending more and more time at the computer or at LAN-gaming shops
• Strong desire to game and heightened enjoyment while involved in the online gaming
• Inability to cut down on or stop the online gaming
• Irritability when not engaging in the gaming activity
• Heading out to spend time at internet cafes or LAN-gaming shops when restriction is set on computer time at home
• Lying to others about how much time is spent gaming
• Borrowing or stealing money for gaming
• Truancy and/or decline in school performance
• Neglecting friends and family
• Having more virtual pals, and fewer real-world friends
• Neglecting sleep to game online
• Neglecting self-care and basic functions and responsibilities e.g. personal hygiene and grooming,
and meals

It is not exactly known how one develops gaming addiction, and most youths do not even realise that he or she may have a problem. However, some studies2,3 do show that online gaming is highly rewarding and stimulating, and one can experience intense cravings, similar to those in substance dependence. Many youths gradually find the real world too boring and slow. Hence, they constantly go back to gaming to seek the stimulation, leading to the neglect of other priorities and healthy leisure activities. Some youths also turn to gaming as a way to cope with stressors and problems. Over time, they may lose the ability to cope with stress in other healthier ways and repeatedly return to the virtual world as an escape and a way to forget their problems.

References:
1 Gentile, D.A., Choo, H., Liau, A., Sim, T., Li, D., Fung, D. & Khoo, A. (2011). Pathological video game among youths: A two-year longitudinal study. Pediatrics, 127, e319-e329.
2 Koepp, M.J., Gunn, R.N., Lawrence, A.D., Cunningham, V.J., Dagher, A., Jones, T., Brooks,D.J., Bench, C.J., & Grasby. P.M. (1998). Evidence for striatal dopamine release during a video game. Nature 393:266-268.
3 Ko, C.H., Liu, G.C., Hsiao, S., Yen, J.Y., Yang, M.J., Lin, W.C., Yen, C.F. & C., C.S. (2009). Brain activities associated with gaming urge of online gaming addiction. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 43 (7): 739-747.

Ms June Tang is a Counsellor at National Addictions Management Service (NAMS), Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

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Posted by ezyhealth on Aug 17 2012. Filed under Mental Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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