As It Happens

'He wasn't functioning': How a video game addiction turned one family upside down

A British mother who has gone to extraordinary lengths to curb her son's addiction to video games welcomes the World Health Organization's decision to officially recognize obsessive gaming as a mental health condition.

Kendal Parmar keeps her internet router in a safe to stop her son from gaming

Kendal Parmar has gone to extraordinary lengths to curb her son's addiction to video games, including sleeping with her children's devices in her bed so he can't use them in the middle of the night. (Linda Nylind)

Before video games, Kendal Parmar's 15-year-old son was a popular, athletic boy — an "all-rounder" who played guitar and was in his school's gifted program. 

But as his fixation on gaming grew, Parmar says she watched her son lose sight of the things that used to matter to him, quitting sports teams, ditching home work, and ignoring friends. 

It was when he became terrified to leave the house and go to school that she knew he was addicted. 

"For somebody who loved school, and slowly couldn't face it, because it was too terrifying to be with people. At that point I thought, this is enormous," the British mother of five told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a new mental health condition, according to the World Health Organization.

By adding "gaming disorder" to their international disease classification manual, the organization is hoping it will "serve a public health purpose for countries to be better prepared to identify this issue."

Internet router locked in a safe 

Parmar says that after years of struggling to curb her son's addiction, she hopes the new classification helps raise awareness about how serious the pull toward video games can be. 

Over the years, she has taken increasingly extreme measures to stop her son from accessing his games, including keeping his computer at a friend's house, keeping her other children's devices in her bed and under her t-shirt while she sleeps, and keeping the family's internet router locked in a safe in her room. 

Her son, meanwhile, has been "ingenious" about finding ways to play. 

"He was hospitalized at Christmas, because he wasn't functioning. He wasn't eating, wasn't washing, wasn't going out of the house," Parmar said. 

Taking steps toward recovery 

Desperate to help him, she's brought in a coach, who has encouraged him to recognize his addiction for what it is. 

"Actually naming it has been one of the greatest starts to his recovery," she said. 

Parmar wants to see gaming companies take responsibility for the addictive potential of their products and share the data they have on users so governments can better understand who is at risk. 

She is now waiting for her son to be officially diagnosed with a gaming disorder so they can pursue further treatment. 

"A psychiatrist says he will be diagnosed. And I'm hoping that as of today, that it will be sped up," she said.