I’m very worried about my teenage son – he spends all his time in his room playing a particular game on the computer. Is he a computer addict? I’m worried he is unable to tell the difference between the real and virtual world anymore. Should I ban him from playing online games?

My mailbox is always brimming with issues surrounding the teenage years.

To put your mind at rest, a true computer addiction is really quite rare. Loosely put, an addiction is something you can’t stop doing, even if you wanted to. In my experience, it’s far more likely that he’s formed an association-based habit. Playing the game has become so normal, that it’s just something he does.

He’s not alone – teenage boys around the globe (and their dads!) are playing games online and it’s no longer necessarily isolating behaviour. Technology means your son is probably hooking up with friends and playing each other while chatting to each other. This is OK – if it is for a limited time each day. But he has deemed continual game-playing as normal, and that’s the problem. It’s also possible this adds justification to the notion that there’s less to interest him now in the real world.

But how can you wean him off the game? Teenage boys are often conflicted enough already, their bodies a mass of raging hormones, trapped between boy and man. So I would avoid an outright battle of wills with him. In the long run, this will always put you in a stronger position.

Imposing an outright blanket ban on his computer use doesn’t seem appropriate either; the keyword here is balance. You need to start by having a discussion – explain what your concerns are.

Be aware, this particular computer game probably means a great deal to him. So it’s really important not to demean or undermine him here.

Depending on his academic status and timetable, explain how much time you have decided is appropriate for him to be playing this game. Tell him what your expectations are and what the sanctions will be if he fails to comply. Clarity is vital; don’t be woolly or half-hearted. Equally don’t be heavy-handed. Remember, it’s your home and your rules, and provided the rules are fair and clear, everyone will know where they stand.

Does he know the difference between real life and his fantasy gaming world? Of course he does. The objective is to ensure he knows that real-world activities can be far more appealing. Once he knows the boundaries, a healthy balance can be found. Speaking of health, one of the primary reasons I work with so many obese teens is down to their lack of physical activity, 
which is directly attributable to excessive gaming and poor diet.