They say all their friends are allowed unlimited use of computers, though I'm not sure if this is really true.

Berlin - When trying to determine whether a child is addicted to computer games or the internet, parents should not only consider the amount of time the child spends at it.

This is according to Klaus Woelfling, co-director of the Outpatient Gambling Addiction Department at Mainz University Medical Centre's Clinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy.

More important, said Woelfling , are the situations in which adolescents sit in front of a computer screen - “for example, when they're stressed or have personal problems.”

Some addicts spend a constant amount of time in front of a computer, but that period is of heightened intensity.

“This means they feel an urge to use their computer on a particular occasion, or always at the same time,” said Woelfling, adding there was no clear-cut line between addiction and non-addiction.

A further sign of addiction is preoccupation. If parents feel their child's life revolves around computer games or online chats, they should speak to the child about it, he said.

“If, when out with their child, parents realise the child is getting restless and badly wants to go home to the computer, they should ask, 'Why is it so important to you right now?'“ Woelfling advised. Parents should not be reproachful. This increases their chances of gaining insight into how the child thinks.

Computer addicts display withdrawal symptoms when denied access to a PC.

“Parents might receive threats if the PC is removed from the child's room,” Woelfling noted. This previously unknown side of the child shocks parents, he said.

Confronted with their addiction, addicts typically deny that they have a problem. So parents should proceed cautiously and describe their impressions only. It is better to say, “I think you've got an addictive disorder” than “You've got a real addiction,” Woelfling said.

If signs point to an addiction, parents should try to take their child to a counselling centre. A conversation will then determine whether the child is ready for treatment.

“You can't treat anyone against his or her will, though,” Woelfling said. - Sapa-dpa