My smartphone-addicted son refuses to go to school. What can we do?

Ask Brian: Parents face daily battles to protect their children from compulsive gaming

“School refusal” is an issue confronting parents and schools right across the country. Photo: iStock

“School refusal” is an issue confronting parents and schools right across the country. Photo: iStock

 

My happy, carefree child of a few years ago has turned into an anxious, defiant and argumentative young man. He often refuses to go to school, is constantly on his smartphone and gets into trouble with his teachers over the quality of his work. This only seems to heighten his anxiety levels. What can we do?

It may be of little comfort for you to know that your circumstances are replicated in homes up and down the country.

Schools now have weekly meetings of their senior and junior care teams where cases exactly as you describe are regularly on the agenda.

One reoccurring feature tends to be the excessive amount to time that many children now spend on smartphones. A few years back the problem related mainly to time spent on social media platforms. In my experience, gaming is now the number one problem.

It may be uncomfortable for adults to admit it, but we have created a world in which a proportion of our very young citizens are manifesting the characteristics of full-blown addiction.

Worryingly, games developers have inserted gambling into their suite of games by enabling children to purchase additional tools online while playing.

You have no choice but to take the smartphone out of your son’s life if you want to give him the chance to overcome his addiction

The solution to your problem, as I see it, is twofold. As a society both domestically and at European Union level we must regulate to control what features designers put into their games to protect children who are susceptible to addictive behaviour, and as parents we need to become cognisant of what we are putting into our children’s hands when we give them a smartphone.

As with all addicts there is no such thing as moderate use. An alcoholic cannot take a few drinks daily without quickly reverting to full-blown alcoholic behaviour, similarly with gambling or drug use.

If you believe that your child is unable to control his smartphone use, resulting in him becoming incapable of functioning as a normal child does, then you have no option other than to withdraw it totally from his life.

A very brave principal in Kerry did that for his entire school and at home, with the co-operation of parents last year, with dramatic results in terms of children’s well-being.

The addictive behaviour which gaming has introduced into some children’s lives has tipped the balance in many homes, leaving parents fighting daily battles to protect their children’s personal, emotional and social development.

I am afraid that in your son’s case you have no choice but to take the smartphone out of his life right now if you want to give him the chance to overcome his addiction.

Have you a query for Brian Mooney? Email askbrian@irishtimes.com