Supporting Teens: Gaming Addiction & Online / Offline Blur

Gaming and social media provide a fun way to escape from a sometimes tricky reality, an easy way to fill time (and there has been a lot of time to fill) and our online personas are not subject to the same restrictions as the ‘IRL’ (in real life) versions of ourselves.  For many teens, their online lives will have become more real to them than their offline lives – after all, online there is no lockdown, you can go where you want, do what you want, be who you want.  This isn’t a new phenomena and many people find that they identify more with their online life than their offline life, but I’d expect to see an increase in this in response to the current situation. 

When should I worry?

I’m actually a big fan of gaming as a way for teens to connect, relax and have fun right now, but for some children who’ll have spent a LOT of time gaming during lockdown, the segue into offline life might feel hard.  We might find that they struggle more than others to interact; that they become irritable and anxious and otherwise emotional as they miss the ‘hit’ that gaming provides – a form of withdrawal.  We may also find that their online life is so integral to them now that they’ll forfeit sleep to get their game time in now that school is taking up a chunk of their day. 

Like with so many other issues, the point at which to worry is the point at which the issue begins to impact on young people’s ability to thrive and engage each day, and if it seems not to be abating with time. 

What should I do?

Helping all young people to understand how to manage their online lives healthily is a good starting point. Helping them to understand a little about the importance of regular sleep and thinking about what reasonable limits in terms of gaming are.  For individuals who are of particular concern, having an open conversation about their gaming and picking apart what it is they love about it and what keeps them hooked in will help you begin to find some ways forwards.  It’s important to involve the family too and not to minimise the issue.  Just saying ‘no’ won’t cut it; it will likely make things worse, so be inquisitive, involve the child and take it as slowly as you need to. 

Further support

10 Ideas to Help Your Teen be Happy Online – on demand course

Identify the Risks to Children Posed Online – on demand course

The Parent Zone have a wide range of resources about digital life to support schools and families including specific resources about gaming and gambling: https://parentzone.org.uk