Gaming & Internet Addiction Treatment for Teens

Are You Concerned That Your Teen Has An Internet Addition?

Does it feel like your teen is spending more time in his or her room, on the Internet than he or she does in the real world? Do you get the sense that your teen prefers virtual games and characters to school friends and traditional social experiences? Does gaming seem to dominate your teen’s life? Does it create mood modification – in that, does your teen experience elation while playing and “come down” and experience withdrawal symptoms while not? Has your teen referred to characters in the games he or she regularly plays as friends? Is your teen introverted, socially anxious, impulsive or struggling in school? Do you and your teen engage in power struggles over screen time? Are you fearful that your teen’s gaming is out of control and affecting his or her ability to function well in the real world? Are you worried that if the gaming continues or gets worse, it will cripple your child’s ability to live a normal adult life?

It can be a confusing, frustrating and scary experience to watch your teenager develop an obsessive relationship with a virtual world. You may question why your teen prefers to spend time as a fantasy character playing with other made-up characters in an imaginary world than he or she does engaging with peers, playing sports or participating in other normal teenage activities. It can be hard to determine if your teen’s use is typical or if it’s become a problem, especially if your teen’s school friends are also gaming a lot. An increase in social isolation or anxiety, as well as mood shifts possibly related to gaming may be an indication that intervention is needed.

Teenage Internet Gaming Is On The Rise

Internet gaming is becoming an increasingly common activity and the time and money spent on the gaming industry is rising daily. It’s the fastest growing media outlet and one that is having a significant impact on the teenage experience. There is still no formal diagnosis for Internet addiction, however, the American Psychiatric Association recently identified Internet gaming disorder as an issue needing further research. While many teens participate in Internet games, some take it to an unhealthy level. These teens tend to spend more time developing their “character” and interacting in a virtual world with other characters than they do with real people, in real time and space. These characters become their friends and, as a result, teens can experience increased social isolation and develop real world social anxieties.

Your Teen Can Develop A Healthy Relationship With Media

Therapy can be a very effective way to help your teen develop a healthier relationship to gaming and other Internet use. Unlike some other addictions, abstinence is not a viable option for treating compulsive Internet use. The Internet is an intricate part of your teen’s life and will continue to be widely available and even required as your teen enters college or the work force. Treating someone with an Internet problem is similar to treating someone with eating issues. Like food, it’s not possible to remove the object of the addictive behavior.

Your BPS therapist will work with your teen to help him or her identify, understand and address the issues associated with the compulsive gaming. Like any other addiction, there is a likely a root cause that’s fueling the abuse. Obsessive gaming may be filling needs related to social anxiety, self-esteem issues, and depression.

With help, your teen can learn to cope with complex emotions in ways that don’t include gaming, identify his or her triggers to gaming and engage in the real community in ways that feel good. Your teen’s therapist can also help him or her work through feelings of grief and loss that may emerge as the gaming decreases and “friends” created in virtual worlds are lost. Your teen can also work on self-identity issues – which are a big part of teenage development – and figure out who he or she is in the real world, when there is less focus on an avatar.

If the symptoms warrant it, your therapist may suggest that you work with your teen in a family therapy setting. Your teen may need increased structure while he or she develops coping skills and learns how to create more balance in his or her life. A BPS family therapist well versed in internet addiction treatment can offer you support during this tricky transition and help develop ways to hold boundaries and set appropriate limits.

Through intervention, your child can learn how to use media without it taking over his or her life. A healthy and appropriate relationship with the Internet is possible and addressing gaming issues now can set your teen up for future success and a more balanced and happy life.

But, you still may have questions or concerns…

I think that my teenager needs some expert help, but I’m not sure we can afford it right now.

This is your child’s life and wellbeing. Addressing your teen’s Internet addiction now may prevent a host of life-long problems and patterns from occurring as he or she leaves your home and enters adulthood. The investment in your teen’s emotional, social and mental health through therapy may not only address his or her obsessive gaming, but also keep the underlying issues from getting worse. Teens with Internet addiction are at increased risk to struggle in school, with jobs, and in relationships as adults, if the problems go unaddressed. An investment in therapy now can help prevent these self-defeating behaviors and unhealthy coping mechanisms from becoming entrenched.

Many people come to BPS having worked with other therapists who were not trained to work specifically with teenage Internet gaming issues or who they or their teen couldn’t relate with – which is a waste of time and money. At BPS, we’ll conduct an initial assessment and match you with a therapist who is trained and experienced in working with teens and addiction issues and whose personality is a good match for you and your child. Once you find that good match, making a commitment to your child, yourself and your family may be one of the most valuable investments there is. Imagine your teenager learning how to live a healthy and productive life without abusing Internet games and ask yourself what that’s worth.

If money still is an issue, you can talk with your BPS therapist to see if they work on a sliding scale. They may also be able to help you find a local community resource to help further reduce cost.

My teen does not think that his or her gaming is a problem and refuses therapy.

While your child may contend that he or she doesn’t have a problem, if YOU think that there’s a problem, it’s probably time for some sort of intervention.

And, it’s really hard to know what to do when a teen needs and refuses help. Involving your child in the process – giving him or her the power to choose the therapist – can be an effective approach to introducing the idea of therapy. You can tell your child that he or she is going to therapy – not negotiable – but offer him or her the opportunity to interview and select a therapist.

If your teen’s refusal continues, you may want to seek parenting advice from a family therapist. Family therapists are trained to offer parental guidance and support. They can help you navigate difficult barriers – such as your teen’s refusal for help – and strategize different and more effective ways for you to communicate with your teen.

It’s also important to note here that an adamant refusal for therapy may be indicative of a deeper problem and a higher level of intervention. A BPS trained professional can also help you make this determination.

I’m afraid that therapy will make things with my teen worse and I’ll feel even more helpless.

Therapy can be hard work, and your teen’s behavior may get worse before it gets better. But, it can get better. Getting better, however, will require time and effort by both you and your teen. Right now, your teen is learning how to be in the world and developing the coping and skills that he or she will carry for life. Until your teen is able to make good decisions for him or herself, it’s your role to do it for your child. This is where a family therapist can offer support. A BPS family therapist can help you develop and maintain appropriate boundaries and limits. With the right help and some time, it is very possible for your teen to learn healthy ways to cope that don’t include the virtual world. And, the BPS staff can help both you and your teen as you undergo this challenging, but positive life-changing work.

We encourage you to schedule an initial assessment with Dr. Jan Hittelman. Jan will work with you to determine what your teenager’s specific issues are and ensure a good match between you, your teen and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.

You can also check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and your child with a therapist who has expertise working with teenagers and Internet gaming issues.

kat-austinBPS therapist Kat Austin, LPC, LAC, LMFT helped create the content for this page. Kat is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Licensed Marital and Family Therapist, as well as a highly experienced Licensed Addictions Counselor. She has been working with teenagers on Internet gaming issues since 2000.

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