KOCHI: The restrictions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic have had a far-reaching psychological and societal impact, particularly among children. Virtual classes, which have become the norm, have also become a reason for high internet usage by children, increasing opportunities for misuse. Unsuspecting parents who leave their children unsupervised would be shocked by statistics that prove that online gaming has doubled over the past few months, largely due to children bunking virtual classes to sign up and play multi-level games online.
In a distressing incident last month, a 16-year-old boy who had just completed Class 10 ended up displaying suicidal tendencies because of gaming addiction. He tried to hang himself when his parents — both of whom are IT professionals —took away his mobile phone. The boy had to be admitted to a hospital and treated for self-inflicted injuries.
“The boy used to play online games habitually,” said Dr Arun B Nair, a psychiatrist at the Government Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram. “When he was in Class 9, his parents promised him that if he took a break and didn’t play online games for a year, they would buy him a new smartphone.
The Covid lockdown came into force during Class 10 exams, and the boy insisted on getting a phone. As promised, the parents got him one.” After getting the phone, the boy used to lock himself inside his room and throw tantrums when his parents asked him to come out. “Over a period, the boy developed drastic behavioural changes. He was so immersed in his phone that he didn’t have time for anyone else in the family,” said the psychiatrist.
Later, when his father checked the phone, he found out that the boy was playing multi-level games with lots of people. “When the father tried to put a stop to this, the boy’s reaction was shocking. He started throwing things and banging his head against the wall. When the parents broke the door open, they found him attempting suicide by hanging,” Dr Arun said.
The boy was in depression when he was brought to the hospital, the doctor said. With options like playing outside and meeting friends ruled out, children in the age group of 5-17 are going through a tough psychological phase, and online gaming addiction is a worrying fallout, experts feel. In a similar case, a 14-year-old boy -- who used to spend hours on his mother’s phone playing games -- started throwing things at home and even tried to break the TV in anger when his parents tried to stop him.
“Many children, after logging in and marking attendance for virtual classes, open gaming windows and play while classes are on. The option to shut the class audio and video has become very convenient,” Dr Arun said. A Kochi-based child psychologist said the acute lack of cyber awareness among a majority of parents, with teachers themselves taking time to adjust to the new system of virtual classes, opportunities are aplenty for kids to exploit loopholes.
“Teachers struggling to make classes interesting and a lack of supervision from parents are the two main reasons for the doubling of online gaming addiction,” said the psychologist.Meanwhile, a parent said “There is a limit to which we can control teenagers. Even while scolding them, we have to be very careful,” the parent said.