The telltale signs are disturbing—teens hide in rooms or internet cafes, neglecting friends and even food, while grades and social skills suffer.
The culprit? It’s not alcohol or drugs, but computer games. And addiction to these games is much more common than many people think—a recent study by Singapore’s Ministry of Education and the Media Development Authority found that nearly 9% of young people in Singapore are “pathological gamers” who play around 37.5 hours each week.
While playing an occasional game is harmless, in these extreme cases it can interfere with day-to-day routines such as working or eating. Addicts’ social skills are likely to be weaker and they can also suffer from hand and wrist pain, insufficient sleep and problems at school.
Citing a recent example, Mr Nicholas Khoo, Chairman of Singapore Cybersports & Online Gaming Association (SCOGA), explains how he worked with a 12-year-old girl who had been away from school for more than 6 months and spent most of her time playing computer games at the
Internet café, frequently running away from home. Besides talking to her about taking care of her parents after they have retired, they spent time together playing her favourite game to help wean off her gaming addiction.
“She opened up to us readily and we managed to observe deeper issues such as problems with her brother and relationship issues with her friends in school, and highlighted them to her counsellors. They worked on those issues and informed us that she volunteered to go back to school a couple of weeks after,” Mr Khoo said.
He recommends that parents take the opportunity to engage their children instead of banning internet usage. For example, parents can try to understand the games that their children play, or set limits and monitor Internet usage by placing the computer in the living room.
“Besides reminding them of their real world priorities and helping them work out a time management plan, try to find out if there are deeper issues like peer-related problems, which are causing them to escape into their online world. When necessary, get professional help,” says Mr Khoo.
Counselling centres such as Touch and Fei Yue Community Services have treatment programmes to help youths who are hooked on computer games. With guidance from counsellors, youths can work together with their family to address gaming addiction and other emotional issues.