In this Special Edition of The Counsel-ling Magazine, Dr Onala looks at gaming. Gaming has become an ‘in thing’ for children, teenagers and adults. Many people spend endless time and money gaming most of their time all day long. This is because a big number of people in both the urban and rural middle-class families can now access the internet that offers several uncontrolled sites that ease gaming and gambling. This in turn exposes children and adolescents to a lot of content that is not age-appropriate or culturally accepted. Children can access pornography video games and other adult content at their comfort at home or even in school.
Although the internet is undeniably an important learning resource, its uncontrolled and unsupervised usage poses serious threat to the safety and well-being of our teenage learners. They will never realize when they are getting addicted, their work declining, and social skills drastically changing.
Video Games or Computer Games
A video game or computer game involves interaction with a user interface or input device that generates visual feedback. The input device can be a keyboard, joystick, controller, or motion-sensing device. The feedback is then shown on a video display device such as a computer monitor or smart phone tablet, television set, or a headset. The video games are often augmented with audio feedback that is made possible through headphones or speakers. Not all computer games are video games since there are text and other adventure games such as chess that may not have a graphic display.
The Problem with Video Games
Since parents are busy, they rarely check on what their children do online. In fact, research indicate that many parents rank their children’s screen time, and how to control the same as their greatest parenting challenge, which may be bigger and of greater concern than the traditional issues such as homework and healthy living. Children wake up early in the morning to start gaming. They play the games the whole day and continue until late at night. Some children go to bed past midnight and wake up exhausted but ready to start gaming again. This leads to decline in mental performance, electronic addiction and physical exhaustion.
Just like substances and drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, controlling addiction is not easy. Addiction creeps in slowly into the life of an individual before igniting a wild fire from within. It interferes with time management, social interaction, language skills, and academic progress and alters a person’s thought process. Gaming alters a person’s thought process, response to motivation, and success. It alters the subconscious functioning and leads to a change in behaviour and interest. It changes an individual’s response to social interaction, emotional understanding, and engagement in recreational activities. This may significantly alter the academic and social life of your child.
INTERNET GAMING IS A DISORDER
Internet gaming is classified as a mental disorder in the DSM-S. It is identified with the persistent and recurrent use of the internet to engage in games, often with other players leading to clinically significant impairment or distress. The common symptoms include preoccupation with the internet that consumes most of the person’s time. Withdrawal symptoms may occure when Internet gaming is taken away. Most children will keep increasing the amount of time they spend on the computer during the day and at night, loss of interest in previous hobbies, drop interest in academic and other work, and using the Internet to calm down when distressed. Apparently, some parents notice the symptoms but ignore them. Children and teenagers start deceiving parents and teachers about the time they spend gaming.
Effects on Social Interaction
Internet gaming significantly alters a person’s engagement in a variety of social interactions. They change the friends they have, there is usually a decline in social interest, use of reciprocal social communication, and problem-solving. Learners who were previously doing well in drama, music, and games suddenly decide to change and eventually leave the groups. Since there is a transactional relationship between social interaction and language, children and teenagers’ language skills and problem-solving may decline. They are likely to procrastinate, appear sleepy in the classroom and at work and start getting in trouble with authority. They may acquire foul language and change behaviour towards peers, siblings, and authority figures.
Effects on Learning and Academic Success
I have seen a significant decline in academic performance among bright teenagers who get addicted to gaming. One example is a boy who scored “A’’ star (A*) in ‘O’ level and moved to year 12 as a happy and very intelligent boy. He wanted to study medicine at the university. His performance started declining steadily and was referred for assessments. He was in year 13. His cognitive scores were very good but his performance in academics was very poor. He never finished his projects, research, and class assignment. He never submitted his work as expected and looked very sleepy and disinterested in learning in the classroom.
Soon, he started to get into conflict with teachers for not finishing his work and lying about the same. He told me that he sleeps after 3.00 am and had to wake up early to wind up his games. He did not have time for his academic work but was trying without success to stop gaming. As a consultant and educational assessor, I am worried a lot because I am getting a big number of children and youth referrals who are addicted to gaming and their lives disintegrating.
Common Symptoms of Gaming Addiction in Children
Most learners who are addicted to gaming will exhibit the following symptoms:
- Long exposure on screen may affect visual tracking skills and strain the eyes. This may affect reading and writing skills, among other learning activities that require visual tracking and scanning skills.
- Decline in academic progress even when given learning support and tutorials.
- A significant change in classroom participation. They may appear sleepy and less active and may not answer questions.
- Procrastination: They will have many reasons for not completing or submitting their work.
- Poor sleep and sleep disorders like night terrors or dreams associated with the games.
- They may have significant shifts in hobbies or prefer not doing anything at all.
- There may be a drop in the quality of finished work and creativity.
- Some may have changed in their language and use ‘’gaming language’’ for social conversation.
- Some children may appear rude, inattentive, and oppositional.
- They may become less organized and poor managers of their time.
- Aggression has been observed among children who watch or play aggressive online games.
- Cultural interference: Gaming alters subconscious mind and may start altering the belief system. This may interfere with religious and social beliefs.
What you can do if you Suspect your child to be addicted
- Talk to the child directly.
- Help them to understand the implication of not doing their work and other areas of life.
- Talk to the teachers to supervise, advise and monitor his/her progress.
- Seek help from counsellors; talk to someone who can provide ideas on how to deal with addiction.
- Reduce or gradually withdraw Internet and electronics before it worsens.
- Introduce alternative indoor and outdoor games for your child.
Be there for them; supervise what they do; time to wake up, do their work, and go to bed. Be a friendly mentor for your child.