Holding a large black file tightly across her chest, a distraught mum prepares to talk about the “nightmare” of her son’s gaming addiction which has ultimately ended in her son being served a protection order.
“I don’t know what else to do, I’ve tried everything,” Sarah* says.
Sarah’s son’s addiction to gaming started in 2014, following a skateboarding accident which forced him to recover at home for several weeks.
But his addiction stems a more troubling issue – out of control rage when he loses a game or when she tries to intervene to take it away.
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According to Net Addiction NZ, Sarah’s anguish is echoed by an army of other parents in New Zealand with children addicted to gaming.
Her 19-year-old son spends hours in front of the television playing online games for hours, oblivious to his surroundings, the effect of his violent temper or the battle his mother has endured for five years.
“I’ve called the police on him several times, it’s got to that point,” she said.
“You don’t even know he’s in the house gaming until he loses or something doesn’t go his way. Then he’d just go on this rampage – his room looks like a warzone.”
Their Auckland home shows obvious traces of her son’s violent temper – there’s a hole in his bedroom door and walls which he kicked, along with damaged light switches. There’s been broken windows, laptops, heaters, phones and even decorative candles aren’t spared.
The bruises and scratches on Sarah’s arms from when he turned his anger towards her have disappeared, but she says the memory of it is all still fresh in her mind.
Sarah said the police call outs at one stage were so frequent that she was calling 105 at least three times a week.
She’s also taken him to court, desperate for a judge to force him into a rehabilitation centre to treat his addiction, and placed a protection order against him in 2017.
“He’s addicted and he refuses to acknowledge it and we’re suffering … we’re all suffering.”
Sarah believes her son turned to gaming as a coping mechanism because of underlying mental health problems.
She says she’s tried everything to curb her son’s gaming addiction, including hiding the internet modem but he found it and changed the password.
“I even called my internet and power companies and begged them to turn off their services at a certain time every day.
“He’s been to psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, different youth support groups – everything.”
The black file she’s clutching onto is important, she says.
It holds a history of “all the help I’ve tried getting for my son”.
There’s letters from psychiatrists, assessments from therapy and youth groups, including anger management classes, and police and court documents.
“Nothing good has come out of any of it. I want gaming addiction rehabilitation places to open up, there is nothing out there for people like my son.”
Net Addiction NZ founder and psychotherapist James Driver said there are hundreds of therapy and counselling places for addictions in the country, but not much available specific to gaming, and very little consensus about how to clarify or treat it.
Despite it being identified as a disorder by the World Health Organisation, most New Zealand district health boards do not provide treatment for the condition.
Addictions are complex and like any other habit, there are always underlying issues that contribute to it, Driver said.
For Sarah’s case, unless her son admits he has a problem and wants to work on it, any type of therapy wouldn’t be effective, he said.
Involving police is “absolutely appropriate” if there is violence and aggression, he said.
“If she can’t get help for him, get help for herself. There are many support groups out there for families facing these type of addictions.”
Sarah holds onto a glimmer of hope that her son will get treatment for his addiction, and that more help will be available for people like him and their families in the future.
“I just want happiness for my boy and I know being stuck in a fantasy world isn’t it. I’ve still got some fight left in me but I don’t want to be fighting anymore.”
* Names have been changed
WHERE TO GET HELP:
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
What’s Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.
Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.
thelowdown.co.nz – or email email@example.com or free text 5626
Anxiety New Zealand – 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)