Stop your child becoming a screen addict?

Image caption Is your child at risk?

Years ago Barbie dolls, Action men and My Little Ponies were the must-have toys - today its the latest in computer gaming. Even little children are pestering for them.

But in this week's Scrubbing Up, consultant psychiatrist, Dr Alex Yellowlees warns that youngsters can rapidly become screen addicts.

And he says parents can rely too heavily on computer games, even using them as unofficial babysitters.

It used to be that playing computer games was a fun and harmless pastime - but not any more.

Although not officially classified as an addiction, parents and professionals are becoming increasingly alarmed at the rising number of young people shunning normal 'fun' activities and family life in favour of playing computer games in isolation.

It is not uncommon for children to spend upwards of six to eight hours daily on their computers playing games.

Worrying symptoms

And now increasing numbers of children and teenagers are experiencing the negative effects of gaming.

Signs for parents to watch out for include: tendonitis in wrists and neck pain, depression, mood swings, angry outbursts if interrupted or restricted, avoiding normal socialising and being active with other friends, preferring to be in their rooms to being with the family (even for meals), and deterioration in quality of school work and poor attention during classes.

If your child is shy, socially avoidant and anxious, they may be at risk as may those who may be depressed, have family or school problems or who are being bullied.

These issues cause them to feel they are not in control of their lives - gaming gives them sense of power and mastery over their 'world' and environment.

Children who may be bottling up a lot of anger tend to play aggressive video games.

Parent power

There are a number of measures parents can use. Learn the art of communication with your child so they feel acknowledged and listened to, place limits on computer usage and keep the PC in the open - not behind closed or locked doors, keep an eye on what they are accessing on the net and join in their games from time to time.

It is also a good idea to develop family involvement in other activities, increasing the child's sense of personal achievement and being in control of their world, for example getting them to take part in sports and clubs.

Parents can no longer afford to use the computer as a babysitter or entertainer for their children.

It's time to get involved in your child's life again if you want to avoid the larger problems that addiction can lead to - total isolation from friends and family and social immaturity at a critical stage in their life development.

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