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My nine-year-old daughter's gaming addiction is ruining family life
31 July 2018 • 6:07pm
Following news that children as young as 12 will be treated on the NHS for the effects of gaming addiction, mother of two Laura* talks about the pain of watching her daughter fall into an obsession with the video game Fortnite
Six months ago my daughter Jessica turned nine and asked for birthday money to put towards a PlayStation, so she could buy a game I’d barely heard of called Fortnite.
All her classmates had started to get it and, like all children, she just wanted to be a part of something all her friends were doing. I had absolutely no idea what was ahead and I figured if other parents let their children have it, how bad could it be?
Fast forward a few months and it’s probably one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made as a parent. Jessica, who was always a lovable, sweet tomboy, now cries and shouts at me most days and is constantly moody. Just last night she came downstairs in such a state, crying hysterically, I thought she’d fallen over and badly hurt herself. But it turns out she’d been removed from a ‘party’ on Fortnite, and was no longer allowed to play with her so-called friends.
Her gaming causes us to argue most days, and it’s like she can’t enjoy anything else. When she’s playing the game with her headset on she’s incredibly jumpy and anxious, desperate to fit in with her friends and get ahead in the game. And when she’s not on it she’s thinking about it, feeling low, and desperate to get back on it. It’s incredibly sad that when we now go out as a family, she doesn’t enjoy herself because she just wants to get home to Fortnite.
It happened slowly and insidiously at first and, as awful as it is to admit, I found it quite useful that she was so engaged with a game I could get on with helping her older sister with her homework. But then I noticed she was spending a little too much time on it and I began setting limits like just one game a day, a ten minute warning when her time’s almost up, or no gaming after dinner.
And that’s when the fighting started. The way the game has been created – the more you play, the more points you get – makes it highly addictive. You can also buy ‘things’ like virtual clothes, but I won’t let her spend money on those things. However, most of her classmates do buy things, which sometimes results in her being left out.
Jessica also often says her friends won’t play with her if she doesn’t finish a game, which can last between twenty minutes to an hour. So when I try to get her off it for dinner or similar, she’s so fearful of falling behind with her friends, she becomes this fiery, shouty child who I barely recognise from the sweet little girl she was before she started gaming.
I said to her the other day, ‘I don’t think we’ve ever argued so much as we have since you got this game’ and she just looked at me sadly, and then asked to play it. She wants to go on it as soon as she wakes up and as soon as she gets home from school, which makes things like homework and meal times a battleground.
I’ve tried speaking to other parents in her class, but to be honest they’re of little help. Some just shrug when I mention my concerns, others admit they let their child play for around three hours a day, and one mum said she has no problem with it because it stops her son from getting under her feet.
But I can’t bear the effect it’s had on our family and Jessica’s mood. Just the other night she went on it after dinner without me realising and had a nightmare that left her exhausted at school the next day. Her teachers have sent out some guidelines advising parents on managing their child’s gaming habits, but in reality it’s not as straightforward as they imagine and they don’t fully understand the screaming matches those guidelines would cause.
I think treatment becoming available on the NHS is a step in the right direction, and I have considered sitting Jessica down and trying to convince her to get some help.
And other times I think about getting rid of her Play Station altogether, but I dread the fall out. So I ban it for a few days and she’ll be my lovely girl again and then say, ‘Please Mum, please can I just go on it for half an hour? How will that hurt?’ So I give in, and when the screaming starts an hour later, when she won’t get off it, I think, ‘How much will it hurt? More than I ever realised."
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