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Family Forum: Tackling gaming addiction

What to do when games take over the controls

QUESTION:

I’m looking for professional help for my son, just turned 17, who is playing his PlayStation excessively, to the point he has not left our house for the last six weeks. He has stopped socialising or talking with to us, zero physical exercise, left school and generally very withdrawn. My GP doesn’t seem to know what to do with him. I would like some guidance. What are the steps I need to take to get him some help?

ANSWER:

It is important to understand that games are designed to keep people playing and that the World Health Organisation now recognises the impact of gaming addiction. Gaming addiction effects regulation and brain cognition, this is why your son is finding it so difficult to engage in other healthy activities at the moment. However you approach this next stage of recovery with your son, it needs to be with support.

Organisations such as Relationships Australia have a free gambling help support service that would be available to both yourselves and your son, as gambling addiction and gaming addiction affect the body and brain in the same way. Headspace (the National Youth Mental Health Foundation) would be able to offer support to your son individually. It may be best to start with your GP to obtain a mental health care plan. If your son is not able to seek help yet, then supporting yourselves with tools for discussion and knowledge will be important.

As parents you may wish to try and set limits or boundaries that you are comfortable with such as removing the PlayStation from his room to a family space in the home. However, keep in mind that gaming addiction has profound effects on the body and brain, he may react in a way that is very dysregulated and confronting. This is why obtaining support and knowledge for yourselves if he cannot, is important.

If you know his friends you may wish to invite them over or make a date to take a group to the movies, this may be a way to have him transition to a healthier activity. Try to have conversations with him about the games, asking what he likes about them and what it feels like to play, this may provide you with an option to transfer this feeling to a real-world activity.

This will not be an easy journey for your son or your family, so look after yourselves and keep pursuing treatments for your son. Recovery is very individual and he will need to find the way forward that works for him and that he can stick to for long term health and wellbeing.

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Family Forum is a panel of general practitioners, medical specialists, lawyers, therapeutic and financial counsellors to discuss each letter before the appropriate professional answers it. The panel is appointed by Relationships Australia SA.

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