teens

My son was spending 16 hours a day gaming. The addiction almost destroyed him.

When my son Matthew was 16, his gaming habits were impacting all of our lives.

He played more than excessively, he played every waking minute – often 16 hours a day. He was staying up into the early hours of the morning, which was affecting his schooling, nutrition, sleep and vitamin D.

Despite taking him to see numerous psychologists and psychiatrists, and him taking medication to manage his anxiety, we still weren’t getting any answers or seeing any changes in his behaviour.

Matthew was using gaming to cope with depression, but eventually it became its own separate problem.

He had zero balance. He was so depressed that when he wasn’t gaming he would stay in bed for days at a time.

The lack of socialisation fed into that too. He even stopped talking to his sister – he only considered the people he gamed with to be his real friends.

With his gaming having such a detrimental affect on his mental health, it was really worrying not to be getting anywhere. We knew that if we could address the problematic gaming, other areas of his life would improve too.

gaming addiction
Excessive gaming stopped Matthew from living a normal life. Image: Supplied

The thing is, Matthew prioritised gaming over literally everything else. He was addicted to playing Minecraft, Call of Duty, Destiny and Zelda.

He wouldn't help with anything around the house or even participate in the simplest of things like eating dinner with the family, taking the bins out or helping wash up. And he never left the house – not for school, not even to go into the garden.

He changed schools a couple of times, but it wasn't enough to get him to engage with his education. We tried taking his devices away and switching the internet off, but it wasn’t as simple as that. It got to a stage where there was nothing left to take away.

Gaming was his entire world. When we confiscated his portal into that world he reacted badly, from threats of physical violence to actually harming us or putting holes through the walls.

Trying to put a stop to the gaming also made his depression even worse, which left us incredibly worried for his wellbeing. Eventually, Matthew stopped going to school and we had to consider other options, like starting him on distance education, where things progressed back into a vicious addiction-like cycle as he dropped school for gaming again and again.

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As things spiralled further out of control we desperately continued our search for a psychologist who might be able to help. It was surprisingly hard to find someone who specialised in helping people with gaming problems, and it was becoming harder to encourage Matthew to see a professional as we cycled through one after another, leaving us all feeling frustrated.

Through our research we came across GameAware, a resilience-based program for gamers which we thought might be an avenue that could help Matthew restore some balance to his life.

Honestly, we didn’t want to confiscate his ability to play. There is certainly some merit to gaming. It's where he would socialise and develop so many other skills, from cooperation and strategy to negotiation.

Slowly, we reaffirmed that gaming isn’t all bad, it’s the “addiction” taking over all aspects of Matthew’s (and our family’s) life that causes the problem.

Listen: We chat to kids, parents and experts about how often you should let your kids play video games. Post continues below.

The biggest lesson he had to learn was why and how to balance gaming around his other priorities. He also learnt that the more time you spend in the real world, away from games, the better your gaming skills can become if you approach it intelligently.

As we worked through the program, I got to spend more time with Matthew, supporting him through the process and learning with him.

I came to see how intelligent my son is; a quick learner. Deep down he knew that his behaviour was problematic and he was willing to change.

Now, things have changed. Matthew has gone from sleeping all day, gaming all night, never socialising and suffering depression to holding down two part-time jobs, practicing to get his driver's license (which gives us the opportunity to spend more time together) and saving for a car.

He’s so self-sufficient now, getting himself up, dressed, to and from work and he even washes and irons himself. We’ve also moved his gaming area closer to the hustle and bustle of the house so he can still be a part of the family and be involved in activities.

Don’t let me kid you, everything is not perfect now – we still have tonnes of things to work on – respect for one. He’s also not gone back to school yet, but we’re on the right track.

My advice to other families tackling kids who can’t tear themselves away from gaming is this... As a parent, I know it’s soul-destroying knowing that, even after doing all you can, your child is struggling to cope in a world that doesn't understand and is so judgemental.

Know that you are not alone. There are support groups and programs out there that can give you education and strategies to manage the problem. But embrace gaming - embrace technology and your child’s interest.

Do what you can to work with it rather than against it, and avoid conflict. Having an understanding of video games is essential to change the dialogue at home.

No matter what, be your child's BIGGEST advocate. Go out of your way to help them through this period of their life and help them to understand it is going to be okay. Because it is.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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