We have always understood addiction to include such horrors as drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling, nicotine etc. However, in today's technological age, there's a new kid on the block: violent computer game addiction.
What exactly is computer addiction?
Computer addiction, or more broadly computer overuse, is excessive or compulsive use of computers that interferes with daily life. People can be addicted to computers and suffer withdrawal symptoms.
There are examples of computer overuse dating back to the earliest computer games. With the widespread use of computers in the 21st century, it may be difficult to distinguish users who are ‘highly engaged' in their computer use from those who might be considered "addicted".
In medical terminology, an addiction is a state in which the body depends on a substance or activity for normal functioning and may occur along with physical dependence, as in drug addiction.
However, common usage of the term addiction has now spread to include psychological dependence. In computer addiction, the term addiction is used to describe a recurring compulsion by an individual to engage in some specific activity, despite harmful consequences, as deemed by the user himself to his or her individual health, mental state or social life.
Problem cases involving children
It is ironic that we keep our children indoors because of our overblown fears of the ‘real world' but allow them to roam free in digital spaces. These risks can be through content, such as adult material; contact, when others pose as ‘friends' while being predators; or conduct, for example, cyber bullying.
In addition, many of our ‘captive' children do not have a balanced lifestyle - they spend too much time indoors, online and playing video games. They become dependent on such activities, unable to tear themselves away. This behaviour is seen most often in boys.
The video games industry is often blamed for producing such content but this is placing responsibility in the wrong place. There are many excellent and exciting games for every age group that encourage thinking and problem-solving. It is not gaming per se that is the problem.
However, what can a parent do if their, say, 12 year old son is addicted to a violent computer game that is labelled as ‘suitable' for over-16s? Games such as this often involve violence and feature shooting and killing.
The problem often starts when someone to whom a boy looks up to introduces him to violent games. The beginning compulsion often escalates into a situation where the boy becomes angrier and angrier; losing his temper very quickly.
Parents are often at a complete loss as to how they can help their child to overcome this addiction before it gets completely out of hand. Young teenage boys, in particular, are at a very vulnerable and impressionable age. Parents are naturally worried that their child's addiction will have an impact on his psychological health.
Fundamentally, it comes down to understanding why a child is doing what he or she is doing. With many boys there is a concern that his angry behaviour stems from the encouragement of his peers. Parents need to set some clear rules at home. These should include limits on the amount of time playing, and if he does not accept this, it may be useful for you to take the gaming consoles away until you can negotiate a compromise. You can also lock consoles so that certain age-rated games won't play - call the manufacturer for advice.
How to distinguish the ‘good' from the ‘bad'
The words ‘video game' seems to denote some kind of benign influence, e.g. "it's only a game". This shows our ignorance and also our inability to say no. When an adult game very popular with kids was released recently, retailers observed that the long queues were made up mostly of mothers.
However, we must be very careful when we label a behaviour addictive. An addiction is very different to an obsession mixed with defiance. If your son is very attached to a violent game, for him to have an addiction to it, the need to play it would have to exert an all-pervasive influence, stopping him eating or sleeping normally.
There are some young people who become so obsessed that they become aggressive if challenged on the subject.
Contact your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) via your G.P. or contact your local mental health therapist.
There is also written help available. Last year an independent report was published, called ‘The Byron Review - Safer Children in a Digital World'. This is an in-depth report, exploring this vast area and crucially it makes recommendations to the Government. You can read it at www.dcsf.gov.uk/byronreview.