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Web Addiction Masks Kids' Mental Health Issues

Experts say kids with web and gaming addiction may become violent when their "drug" is taken away.

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Taking away the "drug" can get ugly.
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By Valerie Tejeda

03/26/13

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Video games and the Internet can be just as addictive as drugs, and compulsive use may cover up learning disabilities, depression, and anxiety in kids, experts say. Video games containing violence may be particularly addictive, triggering "the same pleasure centers in the brain that make people want to come back," says Dr. Michael Fraser, a New York clinical psychologist and professor at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Kimberly Young, a psychologist and founder of the Center for Online and Internet Addiction in Bradford, Penn, adds that Internet addiction actually shows the "exact same pattern of behavior” as alcoholism. Children are the most vulnerable to video game addiction and many have the tendency to become violent if denied their fix. "Kids can become physically and verbally abusive," says Fraser, "Most parents have trouble imagining this—that their 12-year-old boy would push his mother when she tries to unplug the game." Fraser says video game addiction usually points to other mental problems such as depression, anxiety, and difficulties forming relationships, and kids often use these games as way to escape other mental health issues. “When it comes time to bear down and concentrate, rather than work through that frustration they escape into gaming, like a drug," he says. There is still no formal diagnosis for video game addiction, but a variety of internet-related psychological disorders will be mentioned for the first time in the DSM-5 later this year. Fraser says that monitoring children's usage of the web is key: "If you put an iPad in a 6-year-old’s hands, that’s no different than sending them into an R-rated movie theater unsupervised.”

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