Ask an Expert – Is my teen addicted to gaming?

I need advice on gaming addiction. My 15-year-old son is a little too involved in gaming and of late has become withdrawn. Help.

Gaming has become an integral part of teen socialisation. They connect with their friends and engage in gaming as an extension of already formed friendships at school or elsewhere. Games are fun and interactive and can provide a sense of mastery and relaxation.

However, if a teenager begins to display some of the following signs, this may indicate Problematic Internet Use (PIU):

  • Withdrawal from family
  • Avoiding contact with friends offline
  • No longer enjoys previous activities i.e avoids social events or sports
  • School work begins to decline
  • Displays signs of irritability when not gaming
  • Constantly asking when he is allowed to go back to the game
  • Requests that meals be eaten while gaming
  • Mood becomes depressed
  • Sleep is affected ie staying up later and struggling to wake in the mornings
  • Sneaking gaming times at night

It is recommended that parents maintain healthy boundaries around online activity. For example, limit entertainment screen time to between 1 to 2 hours per day. Insist on mealtime and bedtime curfews, to encourage healthy sleeping and eating habits.

It is strongly recommended that technology remain outside of bedrooms, so that parents can better monitor body language, gaming habits and sites being accessed.

If a teen has had unlimited access up until now, a backlash is to be expected when boundaries are suddenly put in place. This is normal. This will often last about 2 weeks until the new habits become part of the family routine and the teen realises the parents are not going to back down. Make sure there are other options for the teenager to engage in during this new routine, such as a new or previously enjoyed activity.

If parents are still concerned, it is recommended that they seek assistance from a school counsellor or outside psychologist.

Collett Smart, Registered Psychologist and Educator,


This is certainly something that is of concern to many parents today. Working out whether the video game use is ‘normal’ or not usually depends on factors relating to the person’s reliance on the games and the behaviours associated with playing them. When playing the games, or obsessing about returning to the games, is interfering with other parts of your son’s life, then it can be seen to be a problem. It is not necessarily the games themselves, but rather your son’s problematic relationship to the devices that has become the issue that needs addressing.

If you say he is becoming withdrawn, this suggests he is possibly isolating himself from friends and family and thus some changes would need to be implemented. If he is playing games for long periods of time, it may have developed from a normal fascination with the games as an enjoyable ‘release’ into an obsession.  It may also be an escape from deeper problems. Either way, it is a good idea to try and curb some of these behaviours before they become more deeply entrenched.

Limiting children’s screen or game time becomes increasingly difficult as they get older, especially if they haven’t grown up with boundaries around usage and time limits. I would start by enforcing curfews for game time and stipulate certain time limits. Removing all game consoles and TVs from bedrooms is also important. All adolescents need downtime before bed that doesn’t involve games, screens and the beeping of phones distracting them from a proper night’s sleep. They can use a normal clock to wake them if they use the excuse they need an alarm!

I would also try to encourage other previously enjoyed pursuits that don’t involve games or technology. If he liked playing or watching a sport, can you organise to go to a game to reignite interest? Try to organise outings that he is going to enjoy and that he has some input in organising.

This is certainly a difficult challenge for parents and one that many feel quickly gets out of hand.  If you are finding that it is getting beyond your control, then you may want to seek further advice or counselling to ensure that he is not being controlled by the games but can return to striking a balance with all the different areas of his life.

Martine Oglethorpe, cyber safety consultant, family counsellor, speaker on parenting with technology,


My 16-year-old spends hours on the computer playing a war game. He also plays sport and is doing ok at high school. I’ve checked with young men in their 20s who admit to doing exactly the same thing and they reassure me that when he starts driving and/or gets a girlfriend, the computer useage will reduce. Should I be worried or not?

Usually many factors come in to play when it comes to determining whether a child’s game playing has become a problem and something parents need to worry about. Time limits alone are not necessarily an indicator of a problem. When the game playing begins to take over other lifestyle pursuits and relationships, then it can be seen as something that needs addressing.

The fact that your son appears to be still engaging in other activities suggests he is still very much in control of his game playing.  Obviously it would be beneficial to continue to encourage the other interests in his life to ensure that he maintains that control and is able to walk away from the games with no negative effects. Too much game playing, particularly violent ones can lead to frustration when not able to play and reacting to normal situations in an overly aggressive or violent manner. I would say that as that as long as this is not happening, and he is maintaining relationships with family and friends, not neglecting sleep and mealtimes, still achieving results at school and continuing to enjoy his sports, then it is unlikely to be anything to worry too much about at this point. Certainly however, this is something to continue to be alert to, and maintain an awareness of the need for balance.

Martine Oglethorpe, cyber safety consultant, family counsellor, speaker on parenting with technology,


Our Ask an Expert Week panelists are all qualified professionals in their field. However, advice given on The Kids Are All Right website is not a substitute for direct, personal, professional counselling or psychological care, medical care and diagnosis.

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