How do I stop my kid from gaming?"
It's a question with no simple answer, says James Driver, one of New Zealand's leading experts in problem video gaming expert.
The Christchurch-based registered psychotherapist spoke at Tauranga Boys' College on Wednesday night in a free event for parents worried about their children's gaming habits.
He was invited to speak after several local principals raised concerns about the addictive nature of playing online video games and the effect it had on students' behaviour at school.
Driver said he started researching problem gaming after noticing parallels between drug and alcohol addicts and his behaviour in the years after he first left home.
"I was gaming sometimes 16 hours a day. That lasted for a couple of years."
Driver said parents often asked him how they can get their teen to stop gaming and do more productive things.
"It's a nuanced issue, and it doesn't help that a lot of the coverage is polarised - gaming is the next crack/ruining lives/causing a crisis in masculinity, or it's a harmless hobby, and there's no evidence of an issue.
"As with most things, the issue is in how someone engages with it."
He said the first question to ask was what a young person was getting from gaming that they were not getting from their offline life.
It might be a social connection, the enjoyment of competition or a feeling of being skilled at something.
The feelings could become negative when gaming became the only way to meet those needs.
Driver said it was up to the young person themselves to determine how the gaming was making them feel.
He encouraged parents to be patient and have an open dialogue on the subject with their kids to help them work on balancing gaming in their lives and take breaks when it was making them feel bad.
Parents could also look for real-world experiences they could introduce their children to that would replicate the benefits they found in gaming.
Kids who loved world building in Minecraft might like learning to code, and those that enjoyed the teamwork or competition could find more of the same in sport or face-to-face board games.
He said parents should make an effort to get to know the online world their children were inhabiting, especially if they played games with an online team chat option.
Even in PG-rated games, those chats could involve anything from "good team banter" to hostile and abusive interactions that could lead to "massively critical self-talk".
A better awareness of how the game worked could also help parents set fairer limits on playing time.
Driver said Tauranga had one of the best services in New Zealand for problem gambling through the Bay of Plenty District Health Board's 'Sorted' service, run by social worker Caleb Putt.
Parents should not hesitate to ask for help, especially in "extreme situations" where children might be threatening to hurt themselves or others if made to stop gaming.
Tauranga Boys' College guidance counsellor Brian Ebbett said the parents who attended the presentation had been appreciative of the advice, which had eased some of the anxiety they felt about their children's gaming habits.