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Gaming problem or problematic internet use – what can I do as a parent?

Gaming problem or problematic internet use – what can I do as a parent?

If we are going to do a survey on how many children and adolescents are over-using their smartphones, ipads, computers, etc. I am sure this would be adding up to over 90% of the school population. If you walk down the street, we can see many people are still looking at their phones while crossing the street. What is happening in our society? Are we closer or a bit distant from each other?

Even here are some good books like Mental health in the Digital Age, Internet Addition, etc., to provide us enormous information based on research on gaming, and problematic use of internet, none of them mentioned some workable strategies to help these children, adolescents, and parents to manage these problems

I went to a few workshops from renowned speakers talking about these topics but to my surprise none of them provide some concrete strategies on how to help parents and their children and adolescents in the family overcome gaming and problematic internet use.

It appears that not only problematic internet usage and gaming happen on children and adolescents, but it also occurs in adults too. Why is that? Are adults setting a role model for their children and adolescents?

I have been observing that parents have been given iphones, smart phones or tablets to their young children to baby-sit them while they are engaging with their friends. These parents are encouraging them to go down that pathway at an early stage. Just look around and observe next time when you are sitting in a café or in a shopping centre, you will be amazed how many parents and children are hooking on their iphones or smartphones individually without interacting with each other.

One student in Year 8 told me that he likes gaming because he wants to shut himself down when his parents are having a fight. Although this is a maladaptive way of coping with the home situation, it does help the him stay away from his parents’ fight and totally enjoying in playing games on his computer. Overtime this avoidance strategy has become an addiction on gaming. He is only the tip of the iceberg.

I have been noticing that most of the children and adolescents who are “addicted” to computer games and problematic internet use would be coming from a dysfunctional family. There is not much interaction between family members. Or there is either disconnection or enmeshment between family members. It is very common in families with these kinds of problems.

Resolving gaming or problematic internet use is better to look from a systematic family perspective. If parents do not want their children or adolescents sitting in front of the computer, this behaviour has to be replaced by another one. Imagine if the child or adolescent spends 5 hours sitting in front of the computer playing games or hooking on the internet, to stop them from spending five hours requires replacing with other activities that are beneficial and of interest to the child or adolescent. Doing something together with the children at an early stage is crucial from preventing similar problem happening in the future.

Setting up some house rules and boundaries are important especially when the children are still young. It stills work even before they go to high school.
Some of the House Rules may be considered by respectable parents:
1. Make Sunday the family day unless one or both of the parents have to go to work. Do things together on Sunday whether going to church, having outdoor activities, playing chess together, mowing the lawn, doing gardening etc.
2. No internet access after certain time, e.g. nine o’clock. Everyone’s electrical devises including iphone, smart phone, ipad, tablet, etc. are putting in a bucket to recharge for the next day.
3. Move the computer or laptop to a public area in the house like the lounge or rumpus if possible. Allowing the child or adolescent to use these devises in their own room shutting the door will be disaster at the end. Parents can monitor what they are doing every now and then. This is different from being a helicopter parent as parent does not have to sit next to the child watching what he/she does.
4. All phones are recommended to switch to pre-paid to discourage large amount of data download for gaming.
5. Encourage the child or adolescent to participate more activities both indoor or outdoor. This will help them develop interpersonal skills when they interact with people rather than just sitting in front of the computer talking to people in the virtual world.
6. Make sure parents be the role model, i.e. preach what they want their children or adolescents to do.

Some tips worth considering are:

1. The children or adolescents may start whining or fighting with you initially. You need to be calm with them and just repeat what you expect them to do. Let them know you are following the same rules too. Remember do not argue with them because you are the boss of the house. Your bosses don’t argue with you. They just ask you to do the tasks.
2. After one month or so you will start noticing the change. It will take 30 days to develop a habit.
3. Reward them using a token system when they can achieve what you want them to do. Look at your credit card or Wolli card, they are all based on a fly buy point system to allow you to trade in certain items such as a flight ticket to go overseas.
4. Spend more time with your children and adolescents. By doing so, you will develop a rapport and a relationship with them overtime.
5. In case the problem is quite serious and the above-mentioned strategies do not really help at all, speak to the School Counsellor and arrange a meeting with the school to work out some strategies to improve the student’s situation. Seeing the GP and refering to a child psychiatrist may be required at times if strategies are running out.

It would be better for parents to start spending more time with their own children and adolescents in order to develop a trusting and lovable relationship. Think of this analogy: if you don’t have enough money, you can borrow money from the bank. But if you run out of relationship with your children, where can you go to get some? Also remember: Something easy was difficult first!

Gabriel Wong – Clinical Psychologist

Gabriel Wong
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