What is Cyber Addiction?
Video games have come a long way since the time when school students in uniform were barred from entry into video game arcades in Singapore. If you grew up in 1970s and 1980s, you were probably playing simple ones like Space Invaders or Pacman, which, no matter how engaging they were, could not pack in the “opium” that the online games of today seem to have.
Therefore, today’s dad needs to be familiar with the gamut of video games and what Kevin Roberts, recovering video game addict and author of Cyber Junkie, calls their “addiction risk”.
At the front-end of the continuum are lightweight games, which carry low to medium risk for addiction. They include Puzzle games (Tetris), Physical Simulation games (Dance Dance Revolution), and ‘Old School’ games (Nintendo 64).
At the other end are Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) such as RuneScape and World of Warcraft. These are highly addictive because players get to control an avatar or a fantasy character and interact with each other in fantasy worlds.
Of course, concerns about cyber addiction are not limited to the realm of online games. There is also the issue of whether your teen is spending an excessive amount of his or her time on social networking sites such as Facebook or instant messaging sites like Microsoft Messenger, and in the process neglecting face-to-face interaction with family and friends.
The fact is not all Internet users become addicted to their online activities. But for those who are, Roberts states the consequences: “Relationships, health, and jobs may all suffer as a result –and yet the behaviour continues. Though users may be highly intelligent and creative, they turn their backs from reality, absorbed in the world of imagination and fantasy.”
Look Out for the Real Issues
In their book, Welcome to Our World –Connecting Parents to Gamers, National Institute of Education lecturers, Angeline Khoo and Matthew Hall, write that there are personal, social and game factors that contribute to cyber addiction.
For example, those who do not seem to realise they have been playing for too long are more likely to have problems with addiction. Players of MMORPGs are vulnerable to gaming addiction because the game world is like another social world in which they lose themselves. As a game, World of Warcraft, calls for players to join commercial guilds and military raids –features that create the conditions for a highly engaging, immersive experience.
Even as you try to understand the factors that contribute to cyber addiction, be aware of how games provide players with ways to cope with their struggles in real life. Essentially, your teen may be trying to find a community to belong to, looking for a space in which he can achieve something, or hurting for a way to escape from his difficulties. And, he finds it in Cyberspace.
Signs of Cyber Addiction
Look out for these 20 warning signs of cyber addiction in your teen.
- Time warp –little awareness of time spent on gaming or cyber activities
- Lying about gaming or cyber activities
- Changes or disruption in sleep patterns
- Craving for games or cyber activities
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Loss of interest in other hobbies and recreational activities
- Gaming or internet use for more than two hours a day, more than four days a week
- Poor performance in school or at work
- Physical ailments: backache, carpal tunnel syndrome, stiff neck, nerve pain, eye strain
- Inability to see the negative consequences of gaming or cyber activity
- Buying game items or skills with real money
- Consuming meals in front of the computer
- Glorifying gaming or cyber activity
- Emotional disturbance when games or electronic devices are taken away
- Mood swings
- Withdrawal symptoms after playing games or cyber activity: headache, malaise (feeling sick), light-headedness
- Continued gaming or cyber activity despite serious adverse consequences
- Persistent inability to cut down on gaming or cyber activity
- Ever-increasing amounts of time spent gaming or engaging in cyber activity
- Obsessing about gaming or cyber activity even when not playing or online
The above list has been put together by Roberts, who now helps run support groups in the United States for those seeking recovery. He suggests that if someone exhibits four or more of the behaviours for more than three months, it is time to seek professional help.
Help Your Teen Recover
Here, at home in Singapore, what resources can you tap on to help your teen recover from cyber addiction? First, there is you –the Dad. Be ready to connect with your teen, affirm him, help him find friends and provide him with opportunities to express his creativity. Divert his energies to physical activities so that the ‘high’ he gets is from adrenalin pumping action and not sedentary cyber activity. Point him to age appropriate games and away from MMORPGs.
For professional help, seek out TOUCH Cyber Wellness, a voluntary welfare organisation which provides counselling on cyber wellness issues. At its PlanetCRUSH Cyber Wellness Centre, teens have access to a healthy gaming environment, engaging workshops and counsellors.
- Hall, Matthew and Khoo, Angeline, (2010) Welcome to Our World –Connecting Parents with Gamers, MacGraw-Hill Education (Asia), Singapore.
- Roberts, Kevin (2010) Cyber Junkie –Escape the Gaming and Internet Trap, Hazeldon, Minnesota, USA.
- Touch Cyber Wellness, Gaming Addiction.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
First published on 11-10-2011.