Outreach, Welfare

Crossing over the line

photo of an asian teen boy playing or working on a laptop computer

For three to four mornings a week, 14-year-old Ryan could not wake up in time for school. This was because he was playing an online multiplayer role-playing game through the night. He ate at his computer table, slept in the day, and gamed at night.

When his mother took his computer away, he screamed and yelled at her, threatening to hurt her.

Ryan was assessed by Covenant Family Service Centre (CFSC) staff to be a computer addict. A CFSC social worker prepared Ryan’s mother to protect herself when Ryan turned aggressive. The social worker also worked with Ryan’s teachers and mother to discourage Ryan’s reliance on the computer.

Cyber addiction is becoming so prevalent in Singapore that psychiatrists are pushing for medical authorities to formally recognise addiction to the Internet and digital devices as a disorder.

A 2010 study of 3,000 primary and secondary school students in Singapore found that 8.7 per cent of young people are “pathological gamers”, spending 37.5 hours a week on video games.

It is not difficult to determine if a person is addicted to the Internet or games. You can use this simple screening test:

Does your child spend more than five hours a day or 50 hours a week playing computer games?

Does your child seem to neglect his studies, meals, sleep or personal hygiene so that he can play his games?

Does your child get irritable, angry, aggressive or violent every time you stop him from playing?

Does your child have difficulty stopping his game at the time that he is supposed to?

If you answer “yes” to these questions, it is very likely your child is addicted and you may want to seek professional assessment.

Addiction issues:
• Denial
Many addicts find it very hard to stop their compulsion because they are in denial. It is an unconscious defence mechanism. Other than denial, some common defences used by gaming addicts include justification (“What is so
wrong about playing games? Is there anything wrong when people watch TV?”) and intellectualisation (“Research shows that only a small number of people cannot control their gaming time. I can.”).
• Withdrawal
A person who is addicted to gaming will generally be irritable if he is not playing his games. When stopped from playing, he may show irritability, anger, aggression or even violence.

• Counselling
Some counsellors are trained in addiction counselling, and some even specialise in particular areas of addiction. One should note that counselling alone can never be an effective method unless it is combined with some other form of treatment or support.
• Detox
Detoxification or “going cold turkey” is generally used to treat forms of addictions such as alcoholism and drug abuse. But it is not generally recommended for cyber addiction for practical reasons, as computers are an integral part of our lives.
Cyber addicts need help in moderating their computer usage and not abstaining from it. In addition, parents may not be able to handle the withdrawal symptoms and consequences, which can include the child turning violent or running away from home.
• Tough love
When a child is out of control, parents have to set boundaries and take action. Parents may need help to decide on the limits, anticipate consequences and seek support to carry out their plan.

This way, parents are no longer enablers of the addiction, but instead play an active role in denying resources to the child.

• Developing the alternative
A basic behavioural principle in stopping an undesired behaviour is to promote an alternative behaviour. If there are no fun real-life activities for a child, it is not hard to see why they turn to computer games which are most certainly fun. The earlier this is done, the better the alternative will work.
• Setting limits
There are two parts to setting limits. The first has to do with the time given for computer games – for example, an hour a day is a reasonable and practical limit. The second part is enforcement. Setting limits is of no use if parents do not supervise their child and monitor what is happening at home. When limits are set, you can expect children to find ways to get around your limits.
• Supervision
One way is to place the computer where the parent can see the monitor easily. Another way is to understand when the computer is needed for homework, and the time needed to complete it. Supervision is possible, provided that the parent makes an effort.

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VISIT * www.internetaddiction.0fees.net for more comprehensive self-administered tests and other information on internet addiction.
CONTACT * your nearest Family Service Centre (FSC) if you need help for cyber addiction. Methodist Welfare Services operates three FSCs:
• Covenant Family Service Centre: 6282-8558
• Daybreak Family Service Centre: 6756-4995
• Tampines Family Service Centre: 6786-7366

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This article is based on information from a website on Internet addiction, which was set up and managed by the late Sim Ngee Mong, former Senior Social Worker of the Methodist Welfare Services’ Covenant Family Service Centre for 25 years. Ngee Mong was particularly passionate about helping clients who are addicted to gaming and the Internet. He passed away in June 2014, leaving behind his wife and two children.