kids

These boys haven't been to school in 2 years. But don’t judge the parents just yet.

Last night, 60 Minutes Australia featured two boys who are addicted to the online game Fortnite, in a segment called “Won’t stop, can’t stop.”

Many Australians who saw it agreed that it was heartbreaking to watch.

The boys, Logan, 14, and Sam, 13, haven’t attended school for as long as two years because they are gaming in their bedrooms. They throw tantrums and abuse and hurt their parents when the game is removed from them.

They are not happy children; the game brings them no joy. Instead, they are isolated from life, and very lonely.

The boys are prisoners in their homes, held hostage by the highly addictive game, which has more than 125 million players worldwide.

And as journalist Tara Brown discovered, Logan’s and Sam’s parents don’t know how to help them.

Logan’s mother, Britta Hodge, tells Brown said she has been head-butted, bitten, concussed and forced to call the police when Logan violently reacts to having the game removed.

It is clear that Logan can barely hold a sentence when he’s gaming. He tells us that he only sees his school truancy as a problem because his parents will get into trouble for keeping him home from school.

But then, he also admits he turned to gaming to cope with his parents’ marriage ending.

“I was depressed and I started playing games and it just made me feel happy again,” he says.

According to Logan’s parents, they have tried everything they can think of to help him, and claim it’s not as simple as taking the game away.

“There are always people out there who are going to judge me,” Britta says. “That’s because they don’t walk in my shoes.”

“I don’t ever want my child to be scared of me. Why should they be?”

ADVERTISEMENT
Logan speaking to Tara Brown. Source: 60 Minutes Australia.

But then, with tears in her eyes, Britta also admits:

“He’s completely different. I miss my boy. I keep on saying to him, ‘I miss the boy I used to have.’ It’s not the boy I know."

Clearly frustrated and upset at watching her son's diminished capacity to be involved in the outside world, Logan's parents tell us:

"We don't know where to go. That's one of the reasons we wanted to bring this story to light."

As a result, Les and Britta have created a (closed) Facebook page to help other families in the same situation.

There's also some hope for the future, as they have managed to force Logan out of the house once a week, tried to enforce a gaming timetable, and last week, they succeeded in getting Logan into a "bridging school" so he can re-enter mainstream education.

Sam playing Fortnite. Source: 60 Minutes Australia.
ADVERTISEMENT

Sam's parents Joanna and Brendan paint an equally dismal picture of their son's suffering. Sam has attended only four weeks' worth of classes this year, and has been caught stealing from his family to pay for gaming credits.

“You don’t have to deal with the real world, you don’t have to deal with chores, you don’t have to deal with sports — you can sit there for hours and hours and talk to people and they’re not going to judge you,” Joanna says, trying to understand her son.

But there is a significant toll on the family if Sam doesn't get his way.

"It turns into an absolute screaming match and I don't want the neighbours subjected to it," Joanna says.

She admits that she hands the game back to her son when Brendan is not there, because she can't handle the stress.

Speaking to Brown, Sam is a little more aware of the issues than his parents may realise.

"I feel like I miss the old me," he says sadly.

"I would like help in trying to stop my gaming addiction. I want to actually get somewhere in life."

Witnessing the boys struggle with their addiction last night broke the hearts of many Australians - and that heartbreak manifested itself in brutal social media anger about the parents' perceived failures to implement boundaries.

But despite the negative social media response, Brown tells viewers that online gaming addiction is real - and has become so serious the World Health Organisation has now classified it as a disease.

We then hear education coach Jill Sweatman describe the impact of excessive gaming as dire and long term, potentially causing “planned brain death”.

“That occurs from the time the child is almost born. It’s already getting rid of brain cells that are not being used,” Sweatman explains.

How parents can help their children with device and gaming addiction.

Psychiatrist Dr Raji Guterres, who has more than fifteen years' experience in managing patients with mental health issues, told Mamamia parents shouldn't lose hope if they find their children similarly addicted.

"The concern is if we're missing an underlying disorder, as last night's psychiatrist said. There might be something else going on at school - so it's not necessarily addiction to the game as such."

Which is why she suggests that, depending on the case and the child, going "cold turkey" may produce more anxiety.

"Start by encouraging small breaks. And don't present those breaks as punitive. Taking a break from the game shouldn't be seen as a 'punishment'. It's about positive reinforcement - so you could even consider ways of positively incentivising a decrease in gaming time."

Dr Guterres also suggested that parents can take their children to visit their family doctor to help with assessing any mental health issues. And of course, parents should ask their children directly  - and themselves - if they are using the game to avoid a particular problem outside.

The most important thing, Dr Guterres advises, is that parents present a unified front on the matter.

"Sticking together as a team indicates to your child that you are being firm, but fair, so the message is clear."

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???