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Are you a parent to a teen gamer, perhaps concerned about whether your child has a potential video game addiction because of the hours they spend online?  With over 80 per cent of Australian youth now thought to play video games, it’s a common concern for parents these days.

But don’t panic if your child spends what you think is a ridiculous amount of time online. First of all, it isn’t just about the number of hours a child plays online, but whether or not the child’s interest/obsession is having a negative effect on other areas of their life.  Second, experts are still debating whether or not we need to pathologise people’s “passionate enthusiasm” for gaming.

And thirdly, also remember that today’s kids are growing up in a digital playground that adults may not fully understand.  Their internet and gaming use after school is highly social and could offer psychological benefits.

Gaming and family law

If you’re going through parenting proceedings, excessive gaming may have in fact reared its head as an issue.  For instance, if one household has different rules, or no rules, about gaming or internet usage by the kids.  Negotiations with a co-parent may well include discussion on how to handle the issue of gaming by the kids.

It is possible for a court to decide to impose orders curtailing the children’s gaming, as happened in a recent matter given the pseudonyms Frye & Colbett. In this dispute over parenting arrangements for two boys aged 12 and 14, the older boy was said to be “exhibiting problem computer gaming behaviours”, and injunctive orders were made in regard to the kids’ use of electronic devices.


When courts make orders in parenting matters, they can include injunctive orders made “for the personal protection of the children” pursuant to section 68B of the Family Law Act 1975.

In this matter, the specific injunction was worded:

The father is restrained by injunction from allowing either child to engage in electronic games or devices for longer than two hours at a time and more than three hours per day on school days and four hours on non-school days.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies reports that Government guidelines for screentime recommend:

  • no screen time for children younger than two years;
  • no more than one hour per day for children aged 2–5 years; and
  • no more than two hours of sedentary recreational screen time per day for children and young people aged 5–17 years (not including schoolwork).

When is gaming actually a problem?

When is gaming a potential problem for kids?  Is “gaming disorder” a real thing?  In fact, it’s still a controversial subject area.  And as mentioned, it’s not about the specific number of hours they play, it’s about the effect gaming is having on a person’s life and functioning.

The World Health Organisation included gaming disorder in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11)(2) a few years ago, however the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR), (used by mental health professionals worldwide including in Australia) has kept a proposed “Internet Gaming Disorder” in its section recommending conditions for further research, so it is not yet an official condition in the Manual.

The WHO describes gaming disorder as:

A pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

To diagnose a person with gaming disorder:

“…the behaviour pattern must be severe enough that it results in significant impairment to a person’s functioning in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas, and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”

So the debate continues globally while research is undertaken to establish evidence-based theory.

But parents may find that their child’s gaming behaviour is problematic, evidenced for example through deterioration in school attendance or performance or conduct problems.

In the Frye matter, the court said:

If the elder child still engaged in the pattern of gaming behaviour as at June 2022 then he would now meet the diagnostic criteria for a gaming addiction as set out in the World Health Organisation’s manual ICD-11.

The court child expert told the court that the concern was the teen’s gaming would develop into a mental health disorder “and this appears to be occurring now”.  The mother’s counsel submitted that “the evidence clearly establishes that the elder child is on a path to potential disaster”.  However, the father pointed out there was no suggestion from the various experts that the child is in fact unhappy.

Nevertheless, the court made the injunctive order in relation to gaming with which the father will now be required to comply.

Where to get help?

If you feel your child’s gaming is a specific issue, you can speak with your health care provider or ask your GP for a referral to a mental health professional, especially one who specialises in teens.

If general discipline and imposing limits is difficult in your situation, you can take advantage of free online parenting courses that may help, or seek out family therapy.

And finally, if you need assistance with drafting consent orders that possibly incorporate gaming restrictions, please get in touch with us here at Alliance Family Law.

Do you need assistance with a family law matter?  Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice.  For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.


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