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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

After suicide in Saudi Arabia, parents urged to do more to curb gaming effects

Therapists and experts say controlling time spent on games could help avoid abuse

Getty Images
Getty Images

A Saudi father has blamed the suicide of his 12-year-old son on an online game that he said “broke the spirit” of his child. But therapists and gaming experts say the onus is on parents to step in.

The father of 12-year-old Abdul Rahman Al Ahmari said he found his son dead in his room over the weekend, Saudi state television agency Al Akhbariya reported.

He said the game in question was one that looks to “demean and undermine a child’s personality” and involved online interaction with other players.

Local media initially reported the game to be Blue Whale, a controversial and twisted online challenge that asks participants to complete 50 tasks in 50 days and concludes with a final deadly challenge.

The father said that his child was a “normal boy” who had “everything a father can look for in a son”.

While the finger has been pointed at addictive online games, psychologists have told parents that the onus is on them to monitor their child’s activity and better engage with them on their hobbies to ensure healthy habits.

Using the technology that children are engaging with so much could be the best solution, according to Carolyn Yaffe, a cognitive behavioural therapist at Camali Clinic in the UAE.

“This is controllable, there are parental controls on every modern game console or computer, they can password-protect it, they can see what their children are playing, how much time they are spending, and they can set time limits,” Ms Yaffe said.

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Video games, she says, are not the problem, but the abuse of them and the effects they have on children when they are online.

“Sometimes, the internet can be a place where every imaginable innocent thing you can find can be turned into something sick and disgusting,” said Omar Sharif, owner of Geeky Lizard, a gaming community and store in Dubai. “But it’s the job of parents to make sure that kids are engaging in healthy online habits.”

Mr Sharif agrees with Ms Yaffe, saying that the games and especially the people they meet online are where parents need to monitor their children’s behaviour.

She says parents need to have open communication with their kids to teach them that just because the game is online does not mean they should not be wary of strangers.

”It's OK to enjoy video games, but don't take advice from strangers and parents should be open and discussing to their kids about what they are learning and what they are experiencing.”

Unicef has circulated an advisory to parents providing insight into what they refer to as “deadly online games” and how to monitor child behaviour for signs of their influence.

“I’ll use the example of the Blue Whale,” says Ms Sharif. “It has been blamed for these teen jests, but it is important for parents to be aware of what their child is going through and engage in constant communication to prevent these kinds of tragedies.”

Ms Yaffe reveals that she has noticed a marked increase in the number of requests from parents about the “unhealthy” habits of their children and the time that they spend on their computers and consoles as the virtual world of gaming continues to grow.

The therapist says it is probably time to seek advice from a mental health professional if a child shows any signs of mental illness or appears to be losing interest in anything constructive, or begins to lack motivation.

Consulting a child therapist can provide parents with an understanding about any unusual behaviours and prevent what could be a worsening situation.