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Computer Game Addiction Strikes Early

Finnish researchers warn that children can get hooked on computer games at a young age, threatening schoolwork and friendships.

As 580,000 thousand Finnish children head back to school this week, experts warn that the summertime habit of staying up late playing high-tech games can be hard to break.

"Kids often come to school exhausted from burning the midnight oil with their computers," says Marketta Sarahonka, who teaches computer science at Helsinki's Vesala primary school. She calls for parents to more closely monitor what their children are up to.

Sarahonka says that her school has had trouble with pupils using pay-to-play internet games at school. Some students have had their computer rights suspended.

Setting Limits Crucial

Psychologist Mika Fjällberg of the Peijas Hospital youth psychiatric polyclinic says it is difficult to gauge the frequency of computer game addiction. But, he says, the problem is definitely growing among children and teens.

"Excessive playing can cause social problems and concentration difficulties, which can affect studies," Fjällberg says. He stresses that parents must be firm about setting limits for children. If simply discussing the issue is not enough, the computer or console may have to be put away in a closet for a while.

They may have to also limit access to games on mobile phones, now owned by three out of four Finnish children under the age of 12.

There is no clear way to determine when game playing turns into an addiction, says Teuvo Peltoniemi, information director at the A-Clinic Foundation, Finland's leading substance abuse service provider.

"But if a child starts losing friends because he or she doesn't want to leave the computer, then we're in the danger zone," says Peltoniemi.

Finnish News Agency, YLE24