“The times they are a changing,” as Bob Dylan would say. If parents in the past worried about their children getting addicted to smoking, drinking or drugs, today they have an additional worry: Internet game addiction.
The problem is so acute now that private school managements in the state have issued a circular asking parents/ guardians to sign a self-declaration form pledging not to encourage their wards to play Internet games.
The advisory issued to private schools by the Karnataka Associated Managements of Primary and Secondary Schools (KAMS) particularly mentions Player Unknown’s Battkegrounds (PUBG), an online multiplayer battle royale game, which has many children hooked to the detriment of their physical and mental health.
“Children are falling victims to such Internet games at the cost of their health and academic performance and even reporting suicidal tendencies which is highly regrettable. KAMS advises school managements to create awareness among principals, teachers, parents and guardians to make an action plan to help in understanding children better and to discourage them from playing such deadly games,” reads the advisory.
The association has also advised schools to refer children suffering from addiction to video games to the right experts for advice and remedial measures. “This step has been taken in the interests of the students’ welfare. The rise in the number of cases of gaming addiction reported at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) is alarming and as responsible stakeholders, it is important that we keep our students safe from it,” says Mr D. Shashikumar, general secretary, KAMS.
The Services for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) clinic at NIMHANS has, in fact, been helping at least six children aged 14 and above on a weekly basis to overcome their gaming addiction.. “Communing with nature, being outdoors, travelling and community involvement should be given greater importance than they are today by families. It is high time we realised that these create more lasting happiness than transitory pleasures provided by Internet games or digital gadgets,” says Dr Vijayashri Ravi, head of the department of psychology at Bishop Cotton Women’s Christian College.
She strongly believes that parents should set an example rather than overuse gadgets themselves. “The least parents can do is to accompany children to outdoor play areas and get more directly involved with their lives,” she suggests.
Net games can be dangerous to psychological, physical growth
Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Co-ordinator, SHUT Clinic, NIMHANS, in an interview with Deccan Chronicle said that Internet games turn dangerous when children get addicted.
Video games based on shooting/war-like scenarios have been available in abundance before too. Then why is playing PUBG considered dangerous among children now?
PUBG (read Pubji) as a game is not completely dangerous or hazardous in itself. It is only the latest addition to the list of such battle royale games available on the Internet and on smartphones. But these games turn dangerous when children, mostly teenagers, get addicted to their high end graphics, real-time interactivity and team-play features. A game, which isn’t harmful if considered a source of relaxation or a pastime, has grabbed the attention of some youngsters to such an extent that it is occupying a major share of their day, disrupting their normal lifestyle. When children play the game for more than six to eight hours a day it becomes dangerous to their psychological, physical and social self.
Is addiction to gadgets and Internet games considered a mental disorder?
Yes. Gaming Disorder, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is a pattern of behaviour characterised by impaired control over gaming despite being aware of its harmful effects. The American Psychiatric Association (AMA) also describes addiction to gaming as one of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). As digital or video gaming takes over a person’s daily life there can be significant impairment in his or her personal, family, social, educational, occupational and other important areas of functioning.
What are the major symptoms of such a disorder and how can it be treated?
Craving (continuous desire to play), Control (loss of control for limiting use), Coping (using it as method to feel good, relax, to overcome stress), Compulsion (habit to use) and Consequences (physical, psychological, family and social) are assessed for each case that comes to us. If four or more in the aforementioned receive a ‘yes’ from the advice-seeker, then the first step taken is to change the gaming pattern he or she follows. A complete and a direct stop is not suggested as it contributes to more withdrawal symptoms, often making the child irritated, express physical or verbal aggression or turn to self-harm.
What keeps children addicted to such games?
Apart from the novelty and interactivity provided by these games, children develop an interest in them as they feel more recognised on online platforms than offline these days. As online communities offer more approval and affiliation, children feel more attached to such games over real-life offline relations back in the family, school or society that they are a part of.
What can be done to keep children away from addiction to online games?
Equal effort should be taken by all stakeholders of the system to ensure that children are kept off excessive use of gadgets. Parents should educate children right from the time a smartphone is handed over to them for the first time and set a time limit for its use. Use of smartphones and gaming gadgets should be stopped at least 30 to 40 minutes before sleep. Also, all members of the family could gather for dinner keeping all gadgets away. Parents could be role models themselves by not using smartphones excessively. Spending quality time with the child makes him/her feel motivated to share everything, thereby building more trust in the child-parent relationship. Also, teachers should find time to discuss safe use of technology in different contexts while children are at school. The media too should continue to create awareness among children, parents and students and the general public, keeping them well informed about the adverse effects of its excessive use.
No. of game addiction cases reported at Services for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) clinic, NIMHANS: 120+
Age group: 14 and above
Symptoms: Sleep deprivation, loss of interestin real life, unpredictable aggression,sudden drop in academic grades.