Amid Covid pandemic, online gaming addiction among kids a concern, say experts
On August 25, a 16-year-old from Andheri (East) left his house after his father reprimanded him for having spent ₹10 lakh, in a month, from his mother’s bank account for making in-game purchases, while playing PUBG online. The teenager had left a note behind, citing that he will earn and pay back the entire amount to his parents, and till then, he will not return home. Police traced the teenager to Mahakali Caves the next day and reunited him with his parents.
On Sunday, a 16-year-old girl consumed rat poison because her younger brother did not allow her to play online games on their father’s mobile phone. The daughter of a rickshaw driver purchased a bottle of rat poison from a nearby medical store, returned home and consumed the poison in front of her younger brother.
These are not isolated cases. More and more children, in their teens, are hooked to mobile phones, online games, watching series or gambling. It may appear harmless at first, but it does not take much time to further develop into an addiction, say experts.
According to Childline and city psychologists, the age of students being reported with mild as well as severe screen addiction has gone down to six years. Experts said due to online classes, owing to the pandemic, children have suffered psychological problems including screen or online gaming addiction.
Dr Anand Nadkarni, a reputed psychologist who has founded the Institute of Psychological Health (IPH) said that before the lockdown, in 2019, they got at least three to four online addiction cases, however, they have now increased to seven or eight in a month.
“A teenager who has a low attention span and needs fast-moving objects to keep him occupied, usually are observed playing fast-paced games. If adolescence and raging hormones are combined with dysfunctional family background, this gaming activity can turn into an addiction,” said Nadkarni.
In cases, the doctors have observed that several online games develop low patience in kids.
“When the kids are noticed to be irritational or impatient, we often get a call to find out whether their kid is an addict,” said Dr Parth Soni from the Alpha Healing Centre, a de-addiction centre. He said in a year they used to have two or three admissions of teens addicted to online gaming, but now they get at least three to four calls in a month for counselling or curious parents to understand the symptoms of screen addiction.
Free Fire, Call of Duty, PUBG are some of the violent online games that have impacted a large number of students, leaving child welfare agencies concerned.
However, with online education, restricting access to gadgets has become near impossible for parents.
“As education and even meeting friends is online, and with less parental supervision, the cases of addiction have gone up, which needs to be addressed,” said a worker at Childline who receive at least eight calls in a month of parents seeking counselling for their kids addicted to online gaming.
As the problem increase across the world, The World Health Organisation declared compulsively playing online games as a mental health condition in 2018. Naming it “gaming disorder”, this applies to people who play excessively and till the extent of “sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”
Dr Harish Shetty, a renowned psychiatrist from Mumbai, said in the last three years many girls and boys have been counselled by him for stealing cards of parents to buy weapons for their online games or upgrade their online games. “A student of fashion designing was upset about a failure, leading to anxiety and online gaming addiction. She stole her parents’ credit card and lost money in a poker game, but kept playing to recover the initial amount,” said Shetty.
Doctors said that parents should monitor the screen time of their kids and teach them to choose what their see or play which could increase their attention span and educate them. “Kids should be taught what movies and series to watch, by educating them in film appreciation,” said Renuka Dhamle, city-based psychiatrist.