Germany: Help for computer 'addicts'

Fabrizio Bensch/Germany
Visitors play computer games at a German trade show.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

FRANKFURTFlorian Geissler says his “real” life ended not long after the computer entered his room. At 16, he gave up school and friends altogether.

Immersing himself in the universe of the World of Warcraft and Counter Strike computer games, he took on a new identity, thriving under the encouragement he received in his new, virtual world. “He got a sense of approval he otherwise didn’t get,” says Florian’s mother, Inge Geissler.

When someone tried to take the computer away, he would throw himself on the floor. “The computer world became more important than the real world,” she says. Improvement only came when, after years of searching, Ms. Geissler found a support group for parents of children addicted to the computer.

Learning how to cope with so-called online addiction goes to the heart of a new, groundbreaking campaign against computer addiction launched by the state of Hessen in Germany.

With a battery of informational sessions aimed at parents, as well as social workers, teachers, and more than 30 counselors specifically trained in online addictions, the program is the country’s first comprehensive attempt to reach out to troubled parents and offer youths a way out of their virtual prison, says Sabine Bätzing, the German government official in charge of addiction issues.

Six to 9 percent of 7,000 youths and adults surveyed by Klaus Wölfing, a Mainz University psychologist who created Germany’s first clinic for computer games, show symptoms similar to Florian’s. Ninety percent of them are male, he said at Germany’s first conference on media addictions in Berlin last year.

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