When John was admitted to treatment, he was 18 years old and was neither in school nor working. John was bullied from age 14 to 17 years, which led him to quit school. He lived at home, did not interact with others and developed symptoms of depression and social phobia: he did not interact with people other than his family and had a fear of going out alone, felt a lack of pleasure in doing things, was extremely tired and had low self-esteem.
These symptoms were not noticed by his family, which could be characterized as disorganized with little authority and minimizing conflicts. During the first months of being at home, John played various games such as Legend Online, League of Legends, Aion, and Call of Duty for 12 hours a day. He would become irritated when he could not play, when he was prevented from playing by a family member or when the Internet connection was lost. He gave up his hobbies, he no longer wrote amateur stories nor read novels. At one point he stopped interacting with his friends, preferring to interact with people online.
Problematic use of the Internet is often not the only psychological issue the persons with it experience. What we also notice in the presented scenarios is that problematic use of the Internet can be used as a mechanism of coping with difficult life circumstances/ other conditions (Kardefelt-Winther, 2014). Similarly, it can be a way to deal with unmet basic psychological needs in real life (autonomy, relatedness and competence; Rigby, Ryan, 2011).
It is often hard to speculate what might be the primary issue. In Scenarios 1 and 2 it seems that persons have other primary issues (depression, anxiety and so on) and problematic gaming is a “by-product”. For example, John’s parents and/or teachers should have sought professional help for his issues regarding bullying and subsequent depression and social withdrawal even without the gaming. It is important to recognize these issues and changes in children’s behaviour, even if sometimes it is hard to notice. Both John and Steven needed the help from a mental health professional and they needed this help even before they started to play video games excessively.
Jane purchased a better computer when she was 16 and this allowed her to play online video games for the first time. She started to play League of Legends, she watched the streamers and wanted to become as good as them and perhaps earn money from playing professionally. However, according to her words, her competitive “drive” was too strong, combined with the fact that she could not control her gaming well and was drawn in too much by the rewards, victories and experiencing them with her teammates. She would come home from school, do a bit of homework, and play for the rest of the day. She would play for entire days during weekends as well. While playing, she would not pay attention to eating and would consume a lot of sugary drinks and “junk” food.
This additionally worsened when the COVID-19 imposed lockdowns started. She soon played so much that her grades worsened, and she started to cancel appointments with friends so that she would not interrupt her play. A few things prompted her to change her behaviour.
Firstly, she was shocked as during a regular medical check-up she noticed that he gained an additional ten kilos. This was especially bad since she wanted to have a career in the army, and this would not be possible with the added weight. Secondly, she noticed she must improve his grades and her older siblings advised her constantly to reduce her gaming. She eventually managed to significantly reduce her gaming time, and today she still plays video games, but very casually. She stopped eating “junk” food and she trains regularly, hangs out with her friends, and is focused on her future career.
Conversely to Scenarios 1 & 2, in Scenarios 3 and 4, Jane and Liam manage to successfully correct their excessive gaming patterns on their own and with the help of their siblings and/or parents.
This shows that not every time professional help is needed and that it is often enough for parents to show interest for their child and react if they sense that there is a change in their behaviour or if their child tells them that something is not right.
However, seeking professional help is never wrong since it is not always possible for children and adolescents to change the unhealthy patterns of interaction with the digital technology on their own and sometimes other previously not noticed mental health issues and other problems might be “lurking” in the background.
If you would like to read more about how the stories of people who have problems with gaming are often complex, we recommend you to read this great paper:
Wood, R. T. (2008). Problems with the concept of video game “addiction”: Some case study examples. International journal of mental health and addiction, 6(2), 169-178.
Alice started using Instagram when she was 12. Her family was travelling a lot, and she was the “chief-photographer”. She enjoyed taking photos of everything around her, and it seemed that she really had an eye for the camera. Soon she discovered various tools for editing photos. Both her parents were proud of her photos and started to share them on social networks. As she was entering teenage years, she discovered Instagram herself. At the beginning she mostly shared photos of landscapes and animals. However soon she discovered that no matter how beautiful the photo of nature was, she always got more likes when she posted selfies. She became an expert in taking and arranging selfies, and the number of people who followed her grew rapidly. She quickly realized that what would be stereotypically considered as “provocative” would receive more “likes” and she replied to every comment to get more visibility. Soon enough she would receive DM’s (direct messages) from other children and even adults, and while most of them were harmless compliments, some of the messages were very disturbing. Alice started to feel very bad about all this.
In Scenario 5 we see this: parents noticed that something was wrong with Alice and this prompted their discussion about the safe use of Instagram. In her case she neither had other issues in life nor did she overuse Instagram but she encountered problems related to cyberbullying. It was very important that her parents did not judge her nor banned her from further use of Instagram, but they sat down with her and explained how to use this social network in a safe way.
Here are two pages that provide short and to-the-point information about the safe use of social media:
In Scenario 6, the teacher was good to notice that something was wrong with Sonya and referred her to the school psychologist who started helping her with her problems that she would have otherwise hardly resolved on her own or even with the help of her parents. Sonya had body image concerns and the social media in this case amplified them. She soon developed a non-adaptive pattern of using social media to cope with body image concerns and other problems in a life of an adolescent (e.g., broken friendships). The school psychologist helped her to address the body image concerns and to regain a healthy relationship with social media.
Of course, it is not expected of parents to know everything about Instagram, TikTok or any new social network that comes up or about the hottest new videogame. However, it is important to engage in an honest and open conversation about social media use, video game use and other forms of Internet use with your children.
Generally, a good idea for you as parents can be to try and use the social networks that your children use, play a bit of videogames that your children play and so on. If they are up for it, you can try as well to play a videogame together with your children. It is also good to talk with your children about what is going on online: what do they do, what do they like and dislike – of course in an open and non-judgmental way. Children will appreciate if you show a genuine interest into what they are doing online. In such a way it is possible for parents to be informed and have a positive influence on the digital activities of their children, generally connect with them and be present in their lives that are becoming increasingly digital.
If you discover that your child has issues that they cannot handle on their own or with your help, do seek professional help. However, be careful as more and more people are trying to make money from expensive, ineffective and sometimes dangerous “treatments” for internet or gaming addiction. Your first point of reference should be your school psychologist or a similar trusted professional. A real professional will, for example, be able to detect if there is another primary problem (e.g., depression, anxiety, ADHD) and pick the right treatment.
Generally, good quality of the parent-child relationship is important in preventing all sorts of psychological disturbances, including the problematic use of the Internet, and it helps the child grow into a psychologically healthy and autonomous person.
Here are two articles with relatively simple, yet effective, advice on how to build and maintain a good parent-child relationship.