Monday, December 1, 2008

Sue Scheff: Internet Addiction and Kids

Source: Connect with Kids

“You treat [Internet addiction] by improving the relationships in the person’s life, so that they have another choice of something that is more fulfilling for their heart and their soul to do.”

– Eddie Reece, M.S., L.P.C., Psychotherapist

Just ask any teen - and many will say they can’t live without the Internet.

“I’d say out of any given week it probably takes up more than half of my time,” says Adam Schindler, a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

“It’s a big part of my life,” says 21-year-old Chris Skinner. “And even when we have problems at home, with an internet connection. It’s like the whole world has crumbled, sadly enough.”

Internet addiction. It’s become so common the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto has started a new treatment program for teens.

Experts say signs that your child might be in trouble include isolation, giving up activities he or she used to enjoy and irritability.

”You come in and you are just asking what do you want for dinner, and you get snapped at because you have interrupted their virtual world,” explains psychotherapist Eddie Reece, M.S., L.P.C.

So what should parents do if their child is substituting a virtual world for the real one?

“How about working on the relationship that you have with your children, so that it would be more interesting to them to talk to you, than it would be to be on the computer,” suggests Reece.

He says along with setting limits on screen time, tell them why you’re concerned. “And then you can bring up the conversation of, ‘you know I noticed you haven’t been playing with Billy very much lately, you know what happened there? And then listen.”

“You have to go outside and make that initial approach sometimes,” says 21-year-old Jessica Criss. “And sometimes it’s hard, but it ends up being more fun than getting no new messages for the day.”

Tips for Parents

For many parents, video games are likely to be low on the list of addiction risks for their children. But as the video industry continues to grow, video game addiction is a problem being faced by more and more parents. This is especially true as the landscape of the video-game industry continues to change. Gone are the days of Super Mario and Donkey Kong. In their places are dark, adult-themed games like Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat.

Why has the landscape of the video-game industry undergone such drastic change? According to the Entertainment Software Association, players 18 and older now make up more than 50 percent of the market. And although more games with fast cars and gun-toting villains are being created for a mature audience, these same games also appeal to younger teens. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission found that out of 118 electronic games with a mature rating for violence, 70 percent of them actually targeted children under 17. In addition, the marketing plans for 51 percent of these games expressly included children under 17 in the target audience.

One of the reasons addiction to video games is a reality is because it isn’t viewed as a serious addiction risk by parents. And while video games in and of themselves are not bad, excessive and unobserved game playing can lead to problems. According to experts at the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF), there are steps you can take to lessen the likelihood of your child getting addicted to video games. Consider the following:

Limit game playing time. (Recommended: No more than one hour per day.)
Play with your child to become familiar with the games.
Provide alternative ways for your child to spend time.
Require that homework and jobs be done first; use video game playing as a reward.
Do not put video game set in a child’s room where he/she can shut the door and isolate himself/herself.
Talk about the content of the games.
Ask your video store to require parental approval before a violently rated video game can be rented by children.
When buying video games for your child, it is important to purchase games targeted at his/her audience. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rates every video and computer game for age appropriateness (located on the front of the packaging) and, when appropriate, labels games with content descriptions. The ESRB’s current rating standard is as follows:

EC – Early Childhood (3 and older)
E – Everyone (6 and older)
E10+ – Everyone (10 and older)
T – Teens (13 and older)
M – Mature audiences (17 and older)
AO – Adults Only
RP – Ratings Pending

There are also other considerations besides the rating to take into account when deciding whether to purchase a video game for your child. Children Now, a research and action organization, offers these additional tips for helping you to choose the right video games for your child:

Know your child. Different children handle situations differently. Regardless of age, if your child becomes aggressive or unsettled after playing violent video games, don’t buy games with violence in them. Likewise, if your child likes playing games with characters that look like him/her, purchase games with characters that fit the bill.

Read more than the ratings. While the ESRB ratings can be helpful, they do not tell the whole story. Some features that you may consider violent or sexual may not be labeled as such by the ESRB. In addition, the ESRB does not rate games for the positive inclusion of females. The language on the packaging may give you a better idea of the amount and significance of violence and sexuality and the presence of gender and racial diversity or stereotypes in the game.

Go online. The ESRB website provides game ratings as well as definitions of the rating system. In addition, you can visit game maker and distributor websites to learn more about the contents of a game. Some have reviews that will provide even more information about the game.

Rent before you buy. Many video rental stores also rent video games and consoles. Take a trial run before you purchase a game.

Talk to other parents. Find out which games other parents like and dislike, as well as which games they let your child play when he/she visits their house. This is a good way to learn about the games that your child enjoys and those that other parents approve of, and to let other parents know which games you do not want your child playing.

Play the games with your child. Know what your child is being exposed to and how he/she reacts to different features in the games.

Talk about what you see. If your child discovers material that he/she finds disturbing or that you find inappropriate, talk about it. This is a great opportunity to let your child know what your values are as well as to help him/her deal with images that may be troubling.

Set limits. If you are worried that your child spends too much time playing video games, limit the amount of time or specify the times of day that video games can be played.

Put the games in a public space. Just as with the Internet, keep your game consoles and computers in public family space so that you can be aware of the material your child is viewing.

Contact the game makers. If you find material that you think is offensive or inappropriate, let the people who make and sell the games know about it. Likewise, let game makers know if you think that a game provides healthy messages or images. They do care what you think!

American Psychiatric Association
American Psychological Association
Children Now
Entertainment Software Association
Entertainment Software Rating Board
Federal Trade Commission
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Institute on Media and the Family