Psychotherapist Noel McDermott examines how the pandemic has changed our collective relationship with the online world. Changes that would have evolved overnight, with many now being permanent.
Technology became paramount in the world of work from home, and both young people and adults learned how to move into the online sphere to engage, work, and play. Simply put, the virus changed the way we use the internet, and the online world is now a much more significant and more accepted part of our everyday life for all generations.
Online life and children
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments: ‘Our kids are no longer odd in their embracing of the online space as necessity moved us all in that direction. Online gaming and online life have been seen as a challenge for parents with alarmist stories appearing, however, if gaming and online addiction were so dangerous a threat, then the period of the pandemic would have seen a very significant rise in this so-called addiction, but it hasn’t.’
He continues: ‘For the minimal number of kids who develop a gaming disorder, it is a severe issue, and as with all psychological problems, early detection and treatment is very important. However, it’s not a disorder for most kids, but it may move from healthy to unhealthy and need intervention. The first place to start understanding if your child has gaming or other online issues is your child.’
Do’s & Don’ts for parents
- Don’t assume that their gaming or other online use is automatically a problem, and your kids may get their back up because you come into the conversation with them assuming it’s bad and they feel your only agenda is to stop them; to be honest, they are usually correct in that assessment. The resistance you get will not be because they have a problem gaming, but because they have a problem parent.
- Do take the time to find out what they like about the games and try to get inside their heads.
- Don’t be a dinosaur about technology and online spaces; try to imagine going through the pandemic without being able to go online; how horrible would that have been for all?
- Don’t assume this is all about being on their own and isolating. Most games are social now, often played between kids who know each other IRL from school etc. and provide positive social glue to those relationships. Your child is playing with their computer and their mates, and when you take away their games, you are taking away their real-world friends.
There are plenty of positives to gaming and online spaces for children and young people, and we have to look at these issues in the round in this way, enhancing the positives and reducing the negatives.
Positives to gaming and online spaces for children and young people
- Using online tools and computers, employment and education are essential in our world.
- Employment as a gamer or games designer there are many opportunities in this field.
- Neurological growth, in opposition to the theory that being online rots your brain, usually enhances it and the pro-social aspects of brain function.
- Gaming is increasingly a tool in mental health research and treatment.
- It is being utilised in medicine in pain management to reduce opiate use in serious injuries such as burns.
- Developing friendships, yes, it’s one of the primary ways kids make and cement real-world friendships, and this can be particularly true for boys making friends.
We have to be realistic if problems develop that prohibition won’t work as trying to prohibit online activity from a person’s life is impossible. Everything is online, from your fridge to your watch to your phone to your TV, your computer, your work, school, doctor, and supermarket. We need to work with children to help them manage online use.
Signs that gaming is becoming a problem:
- Consistent sleep deprivation issues due to gaming affecting school
- Reduction in self-care and prioritising gaming
- Not managing IRL interactions and replacing gaming ones for real-world ones rather than enhancing or complimenting
- Obsessing about gaming etc. and only having this as a topic of conversation
- Not having any other interests outside of gaming and online activities
The best approach is always to talk to your child and help them manage more effectively, but if your child becomes angry and aggressive in their using or start to use drugs to prolong their sessions, then seek professional help.
The gaming use may also be a symptom of another issue, so it’s important not to label until a proper assessment has been conducted. If your child is, for example, isolated and gaming due to bullying, diagnosing them as a gaming addict won’t help and will cause severe harm.
Noel McDermott is a psychotherapist with over 25 years of experience in health, social care, and education. He has created unique mental health services in the independent sector. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources to help clients access help without leaving home.