No interest in hobbies, no time for buddies, no appetite for real food - concerned parents may discover that the culprit behind these symptoms in their children is computer games, not drugs.
Computer games and television can lead to an addiction, with very negative consequences.
'School performance drops, the children stop putting effort into contact with other people, and aren't interested in anything,' says Peter Grosch, general manager at the evangelical addition help association for Mecklenburg, Germany.
Since the children rarely get out and move, they also often suffer from obesity.
It is often difficult to judge when computer game playing becomes a problem.
If over the course of time the children do little else, then it is an addiction, Grosch says.
There are no clear definitions about how many hours of play are dangerous, however.
'It's important that parents notice changes in their children's behaviour,' says psychologist Juergen Detering.
If the child stops doing his chores as usual or starts neglecting friends, red flags should go up.
A recent study by the Charite hospital in Berlin shows just how much computers are present in children's lives.
The poll of sixth graders showed that 80 percent of the students own their computer. Almost 70 percent of the boys and 44 percent of the girls have their own gaming console. Nine percent showed clear indications that they are spending more time at the monitor than is good for them.
These children themselves felt that they were spending too much time sitting in front of the computer, and that this was leading to quarrels with friends and family.
The mere fact that a child enjoys playing on the computer is no cause for alarm.
'The fascination with games is related to our reflexes,' explains Juergen Detering.
Humans are biologically programmed to pursue stimuli. 'When you sit in front of the monitor, you have the feeling of being directly involved with something.'
Successful experiences are more easily gained this way than in real life.
But there is danger in all this, as well. 'This satisfaction can make children less interested in taking on the daily challenges of real life,' Detering says.
Friendships, hobbies, and chores all involve effort, Grosch adds.
In the view of Martin Zobel, a psychotherapist from Koblenz, the new form of gaming addiction is often a result of family problems.
'No child becomes involved in extreme computer consumption without a reason,' he says.
Particularly at risk are children who suffer from neglect or whose parents have separated, and where they are not sufficiently monitored and challenged at home.
'Many parents are poor role models, since they themselves spend a lot of time in front of the computer or television.' The parents are often happy when the children are at home, Grosch says.
'Beyond that, they don't care what the kids are doing in their rooms.'
Parents who have the feeling that their children are spending too much time on the computer should address the issue, but avoid accusations.
If the child defends the computer at all costs, then that should serve as another warning bell, says Martin Zobel. The parents should nevertheless not simply take away the games or the computer.
'General bans achieve nothing,' Grosch says. He advises parents to take a look at the games themselves and to warn their children about the potential dangers.
Zobel advises against children having their own computer in their rooms.
Computer-free times should be clearly agreed upon, so that the children put their minds on other matters.
'It's important that the child has other ways of spending time, something to amuse him and connect him into the family life,' he says.
If the parents are getting nowhere, they can turn to an addiction or parenting crisis centre. 'Sometimes it helps to bring the child along,' Grosch says.
'It often has more effect if a stranger talks to them,' he says.
(Source: IANS News)