Australian children as young as 11 are turning to stealing from family members to help fuel their online gaming addictions, according to a new study.

A Macquarie University study of about 1000 Australian teenagers has uncovered that 2.8 per cent were affected by Internet Gaming Disorder, which is seriously impacting their schoolwork, relationships and mental health.

Case studies as part of the research found disturbing behaviour from children as young as primary school age, who are ‘addicted to the internet to the point of self-harm when things don’t go’ their way.

Developmental Psychologist, Associate Professor Wayne Warburton, who was one of the researchers involved in the study, explained that to meet the criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD), video-game use needs to be having serious impact across several areas of the child’s life.

“A serious impact on a single area may indicate hazardous gaming (HG) behaviour, which may also require intervention,” he said.

13-year-old addicted to online gambling, 11-year-old self harming

Online gaming addiction

The two case studies revealed as part of the study also included a 13-year-old boy, who had threatened self harm with a knife after his parents tried to limit his screen time.

Previously a high-achiever at school, his grades had started to drop, admitting he was spending up to eight hours a day during the week online. He also revealed to gambling within his favourite game Counter Strike Global Offensive, losing around $3000.

While the 11-year-old boy who was part of the study revealed he had stolen his grandmother’s credit card to buy items in Fortnite. But even after admitting his stealing, he continued and charged another $500 to the card for online gaming purchases.

How much is too much?

Online gaming addiction

Associate Professor Warburton says the recommended amount of recreation screen time for children is different for each age group. For example, the national guidelines recommend no screen time for children under the age of two.

“There’s no evidence such young children benefit even from educational media, so we should rethink handing our phones to babies and toddlers. For those aged two to five, the recommendation is up to 45 minutes of educational media a day, like Playschool or Sesame Street, but it’s important that there’s an adult present to guide that viewing.

“For school-age kids, guidelines have been replaced by a recommendation to develop a family media plan, where you and your kids decide on limits together. It’s probably going to be more than the old recommendations of one hour a day during primary school and two in high school, but if you’re getting above three to four hours, then you’re running out of room for them to have a balanced life.

“Think of a healthy media diet as being like a healthy food diet – it’s about moderation and good choices.”

What are the warning signs of Internet Gaming Disorder?

  • Kids spending an increasing amount of time in their bedrooms
  • Falling school grades
  • Missing important activities
  • Giving up things they used to enjoy
  • Lying about how much time they spend gaming
  • A reduced number of friends
  • More tired and irritable
  • Find it hard when they can’t game

In 2015, children in the US aged between 13 and 18 were spending an average of six hours and 40 minutes a day on recreational screen use. By the time the pandemic hit, that had risen to an incredible eight hours and 39 minutes a day – and the experts say the figures in Australia have followed a similar path.

“Anyone can develop a screen addiction, but my research shows kids are more at risk if they have issues with impulse control and if their basic needs, like self-esteem, being included, feeling good at things and being in control, are being met better online than offline,” Associate Professor Warburton said.

New program being trialled

In a bid to combat children’s rising online gaming addiction, Associate Professor Warburton and Dr Kerstin Paschke, from the University of Hamburg Medical Centre in Germany, are testing a new treatment program for problematic gaming.

The trial starts in Australia in October, and families on NSW’s Central Coast with eligible high-school-aged children are being invited to take part.

While the program is free, participants need to be able to travel to Wyong and commit to 13 to 16 sessions.

For further information, Associate Professor Warburton.

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  • I am pretty sure that tv and computer games are not so good for kids.


  • I like a balanced approach incorporating no game time during the week except for Friday night and then allow some time on the weekend. Having said that, the hours do add up so I really want to find a part time job for my son now he is 14 yrs old and keep him out and about with sport, friends or some casual work!


  • While 2.8 percent may seem like a small number, that’s 28 out of 1000 children-almost a whole class of children in a standard height school!


  • This is frightening and so sad. I’m fortunate that my son didn’t have a lot of interest in gaming whereas I know of a few of his friends who were socially-awkward and their only friends were those they were online gaming with… and at a young age.


  • Technology is supposed to make our lives better but no-one ever considers how it can also make our lives worse. :(


  • Unless he has stolen something, how does a 13 year old gamble away $3000, even still I think I’d notice that missing from my account.

    • Some kids have quite some money on their own bank account, but it’s well possible he stole it


  • I have a 30+ yo nephew who has indulged in hours of computer games. He literally sits up all night playing and all day sleeping. He’s just spent months in a mental health facility and is still receiving mental health care.

    • Glad your nephew receives help !


  • This is concerning to read and I personally believe this will get worse as more and more advanced technology gets.


  • I think a lot of this is also due to parents allowing kids to go on them for longer times to start with and the young age some kids start gaming. My nephews were allowed to game from 6 yrs old now 14 he will spend all day gaming on holidays while his parents are at work. Some kids don’t even play outside with friends anymore it’s all through gaming.


  • Thankfully we haven’t introduced gaming to our kids. They don’t have a tablet or phone that they can play on.


  • I was very fortunate when my boys were small because we couldn’t afford to buy them, they never had that addiction. I’m very happy to say that none of my grandchildren have time to play games because they’re always out with their mates or doing part time work after school. It’s scary to think that playing an online game can cause such problems and have kids wanting to self harm.

    • Yes, self-harm, stealing, lying are all the symptoms you see by addictive behaviours and tey’re so impacting !


  • My 9yo loves his gaming. Plays Fortnite with his friends and family. Is usually in control when time is up, he turns it off. But since the school holidays, we all got sick so that was his outlet to social. Now school returned, he is struggling to stay on time limit, really sad when he turns it off but his improving with the new routine again. Playing is now to be “earnt” after homework/reading and any chores completed.
    Our rule is when he plays any games on his switch, its always in the family room to be supervised. Not allowed to play in his bedroom.
    And I dont allow online purchases. Cause once you do 1 purchase, it becomes an expectant thing. Only time an online purchase is allowed if its been gifted.


  • Yes they are addictive these games for the kids and some adults too addicted also


  • This is really sad but I can totally understand how it happens. My kids love their tablets and would spend all day on them if they were allowed… We have no tablet time during the week ( except for homework) but I do allow a couple of hours on the weekends, especially if the weather is really bad and we aren’t doing anything else.


  • My kids get one night a week each and some weekend time when they get home from their fathers house. My kids do have phones and other devices they try to use but I make sure they get plenty of outside time.


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