Need help now?

School refusal, anxiety and gaming addiction

Discussion forum for parents in Australia

School refusal, anxiety and gaming addiction


School refusal, anxiety and gaming addiction

My son is 12 and started high school this year.

He was nervous and anxious about starting high school but did have a 'good' friend going to the same school, so was a little more relaxed about the idea.

Upon starting, his friend is in a different class and has connected with other friends from their previous primary school and hangs with them all the time.

My son has sadly not made any new friends and doesn't feel comfortable around his good friend, not feeling welcomed or comfortable in the new friend group.  

My son has been sitting by himself recess and lunch and now, has refused to go to school. 

He has not been to school very much at all since the first week of term.  I am so worried about his education and how much he is missing out on.  What's more concerning, is his mental health.

My son was once a very 'life of the party' type kid, so funny, so much fun to be around and to have around, loud, engaging and literally lit up a room.  He had friends that he was active with. He was very active with sport and was always busy doing stuff, being sports, drawing or writing.   He has now become very withdrawn, very quiet, not talking, not socialising, not leaving the house, not doing sport, not leaving his room.  He doesn't sleep well and is not eating so much.  He no longer feels comfortable even going in to his fav takeaway store asking for a burger and chips at the counter.  He is extremely anxious at even doing those simple tasks that were once never an issue for him.  We have worked together to try to get through those fears and anxieties with the simple tasks in small increments but with him not leaving the house, it's proving more difficult. 

I have been in contact with the school, spoken to them on so many occasions, met with them and have tried to get professional help for him too but it is impossible to get an appointment, but I persevere.  The school has been helpful and understanding and even suggested that he come into the school for a period or half a day, but no, he hasn't done that. 

My son does not generally share his feelings and really DISLIKES talking about his feelings with anyone, but I have been gently trying to get him to open up to me.  He has said that he fears the loneliness at school, he fears being alone, fears that he doesn't have any friends at school, that he doesn't know the work (especially after being away for so long), that he fears the sadness of sitting alone at recess and lunch and gets extremely anxious whenever we talk about school.  His whole demeanour changes in an instant.   

Over the past few weeks, he has not left his bed in the mornings until the middle of the day, just so down and depressed.  He has said over the past few weeks that he would 'go to school tomorrow', but the next day would come, and nothing, he would just be in his bed, too anxious to leave.

A glimmer of light happened last week and today when he said that he would go to school and he did actually get up for school but then felt so anxious about it, retreated and went back to bed.  I did celebrate the 'small' win with him about actually getting up out of bed on time, to encourage this behavior and feeling again.

So.... he has been at home. Alot.  And here's the next part.... he is addicted to gaming. 

He continues to say that that is the only thing in the world that makes him happy.  He doesn't actually have to see anyone and he can talk to anyone.  It is a CONSTANT battle, challenge, at times argument, to get him off the gaming.   Seeing that he is at home, I tell him that he can at least try to do some schoolwork, the only problem is the computer he uses for schoolwork is the same for gaming, so generally, I find him not doing the school work and doing the gaming.  He then says that it makes him happy.
I have limited times for the computer use, I have limited internet usage but generally, both of these end up in huge arguments where he is so incredibly enraged with me.  It is a constant battle.  We have drawn up 'contracts' where we have both agreed to the details and when he breaks that, I turn off the internet (part of the contract) but he then gets so very angry and then refuses to do absolutely anything (not that he is doing anything anyway).

He doesn't want to socialise with any of friends or even talk to them.

He has only left the house once in the past 2 weeks and that's when I eventually convinced him to walk our dogs with me - so we did one lap around the park and he couldn't wait to get home - it was a total of 15 minutes outside in over 2 weeks. 

Today I said I would take him to the library, we can do some schoolwork, just hang out and they have a cafe there so have something to eat, but he doesn't want to leave the house.  Those 15mins around the park were impossible to get yesterday and any time out of the house now is just not happening.  

I hope he goes to school tomorrow, if even for just one period, but in reality, I don't see it happening. 

His not leaving the house is also getting to me as I'm not leaving the house.  I feel imprisoned in my own home with him not wanting to leave.  We have been asked to go to my sister's for dinner and he said that he feels anxious around them and doesn't want to go. 

I know I just have to wait until professional help but that could be months and months away. Some places I rang said that they have closed their books indefinitely and others said that it could be at least a 6 month wait and that's only if something becomes available then.

The longer time moves on, the more withdrawn from everything and everyone he is becoming and also the more he is not attending school.

I'm lost as to what to do to help him. 



Re: School refusal, anxiety and gaming addiction

Message contains a hyperlink

@Bobo2018 I'm so sorry to hear about all you and your son are going through - that sounds so hard. 

I can hear the sadness in your words when you talk about your son's pain and isolation, and I really feel for you.


It's heartbreaking to hear about how intense your son's fear is of the loneliness he feels at school - human beings are social creatures, and no-one should have to experience that level of pain while trying to get an education. 


I was wondering - does your son have any suggestions or ideas of things that he thinks might be helpful?

Re: the gaming, it sounds like he feels safe and connected in the gaming world, and it's understandable that he'd be feeling a pull to that when he's feeling so isolated. 

Would there be any possibility of using the gaming to connect with other young people in a safe way - eg. inviting a friend around to game together, or playing online with someone he'd like to get to know better in real life? 


In terms of support for your son, I'm hearing you when you say it's hard to get professional support at the moment - a lot of people have been saying it's become more difficult since COVID.

One thing I was wondering about is whether a program like Cool Kids might be worth considering if it interests you and your son. It's run in a variety of settings, including online. 

In the meantime, while you try to access other supports, do you think your son would consider connecting with a counsellor through a service such as Kids Helpline or eheadspace?


In case you'd like to take a look, we also have some articles on our website about school refusal and social anxiety, and we also have a one-to-one parent coaching service if that would be helpful. 


Do you have much support for yourself, or things you like to do that help in hard times?

We're always here any time to talk things through or to help in any way we can. Heart

Please let us know how things go. 


Re: School refusal, anxiety and gaming addiction

I have almost exactly the same issue.

My 16yo has depression, reading issues, is wanting to transition gender...and is now claiming minor psychotic episodes (occasionally seeing things at the periphery).

The gaming aspect is so challenging - they are the most vocal and engaged when playing online. I want them to get off, I feel it's an addition (they play all the time and say it's the only thing that helps).


School refusal is an ongoing issue and it's almost impossible to get professional support.


We're on so many waiting lists. And before anyone suggests Reachout one-on-one counseling, their first appointment is 1 month from now.


My 14yo is also refusing school. As I type this I'm trying to figure out how to get them to school by end of recess.


My wife and I are at our wit's end.

Super frequent scribe

Re: School refusal, anxiety and gaming addiction

Message contains a hyperlink

Hi @mick_, it sounds like you can very much relate to @Bobo2018. It is so hard to see our young ones suffer and make choices that we know are unhelpful for them in the long term.


It can be extremely disheartening when you reach out for support and end up on a waitlist. Hopefully, these waitlists move quickly for you so that you can get professional support ASAP.


I thought it might be useful to share some resources that you can use in the meantime:

Another good resource is Parentline. Parentline is a phone service for parents and carers of children from birth to 18 years old. They offer free, confidential, and anonymous counseling and support on parenting issues. The number for Parentline differs per state. Scroll to the bottom of this page to see which number to call if you're interested. 


Please feel free to keep us updated on your journey with your child. Things can, and often do, get better.


Re: School refusal, anxiety and gaming addiction

It's like I'm reading the start of my youngest son's transition to highschool, except his friends before Highschool started bullying him to make it worse.
My son turned 17 7days ago and he hasn't gone to school for longer than 1/2a day collectively a couple of weeks a year, he'd slowly work up his confidence, in a "special" learning class, for 1/2a day, with a teacher taking an incredible interest in helping my son, slowly work up to going to school by week 8 or 9 of term,so he'd be starting to try going for short periods of the day, but then the school holidays would start and he'd regress back to his room and by the time the next term started, usually 2 weeks, he'd be completely entrenched in his device addiction, anxiety preventing him from leaving his room, having a shower,brushing his teeth, let alone not eating! The effort that went into just trying to get him to school and/or eat even a semblence of a sustainable diet, going at times days without any food and/or trying to get him to care about his personal hygiene, and/or anything to do with having any quality of life, the effort was never ending and soooo exhausting. So here I sit, reading about your son, thinking about my son and how similar the stories are. My son is now 17years old, on anti depressants, having gone to hospital and getting a tube put down into his stomach through his nose to be refed and out of the 4 walls of his bedroom. Still struggling with the EXACT same issues AND 3 visits to the youth mental health unit, having to be put in under the Mental Health Act, where a magistrate makes him legally HAVE to go to a facility, 2 of those times but unfortunately, against my assumptions of the very most basic foundations of and not given ANY proper therapy or tools to assist him to be successful at managing his anxiety or ANY of his other issues standing in the way of having any type of adolescent life and quality of.
Let alone offering us as a family therapy or tools on what to do when my son's anxieties and device addiction start taking him down the dangerous path of lying in his bed 23hoyrs a day only interacting with his devices, not with any people, on his devices or in reality.
Or educate all of us on how to deal with the dynamics within the family largely created by my youngest son's issues and the bad angry dark moods he would so often be in.
So, here I sit staring down the barrel of 18, that scary number when you as a mother no longer have any authority to appropriately advocate for your child and moreover, the systems he has to inevitably go in to because of his problems that, now, are inevitably entrenched in a pattern of coming home, keeping his healthier habits from a long time in a NSW health care facility, for a very short period of time then he would rapidly regress back to 23hours a day isolating, not eating, on his devices etc, until his health, mental AND physical gets so low and dangerous that he gets taken to Hospital and often thereafter taken to a youth mental health facility for "therapy" (Ha!!or lack thereof) before being discharged back into my care where he would proceed to follow the habits learned, pressed upon him while in care, then after a short period of time, regressing back to bad habits that results in dangerous health problems that leads to NSW health interviening and taking him to a health facility as they decide depending on the presenting symptoms. And round and round again.
I really WISH this response was full of tools and ideas on how to counter your son's unhealthy habits and mental anxieties and fears, and remember they are just entering the rollercoaster ride of puberty, and all the angst and issues that arise from THAT alone. I wish I had an answer that would console you and have you hopeful that it's a little glitch in your son's highschool/ adolescent life. I can't stress enough how serious your son's problems could become, before you know it, major mental and physical health issues that will take many years and lots of effort and engagement from him and his health carers. Especially physchologists, he needs to be able to talk about how he's feeling regularly with somebody that's not you. That will get him out of his room at the very least, and at best, he'll engage with the therapist, that's so important, that they engage with people around them, and in life. What doesn't kill them, makes them stronger right!? Except for bullying, watch for peer pressure and bullying and engage the school and or the other kids parents and make it clear that your son NEEDS and DESERVES to feel safe in his environment, school and out of school and educate yourself on what strategies the school employs to combat bullying and peer abuse and bullying. Make SURE they're rigorous strategies and that you are fully included in all steps in the strategies. That's the best help I can give, that and, get yourself someone you can 'dump' or 'vent'/ workthrough with, because you're on a long, seemingly endless rollercoaster of effort fear exhaustion and worry for your boy so YOU need to be ready and mentally and emotionally nourished. You are your son's advocate and only you, and his father really care about how this is and maybe will effect your son's life health and mental state. So it's up to you to scream and shout and try to ensure that your son is able to tackle his issues long before he is at the end of his highschool life and before he turns 18years old and enters a system that 'medicates' before or in place of rehabilitate and you will have absolutely no say in any decisions about his type of care for whatever he is displaying at the time.
I wish you nothing but luck love and strength in life and with helping your son navigate through this.

Re: School refusal, anxiety and gaming addiction

Hello @Brunswickmum thanks for sharing your story with us here on the forums. It’s really lovely to see the support and advice that you have provided to other community members here. I am sorry to hear about what you and your son have been going through. It sounds like you care a lot about your son and are supportive of his needs. It is unfortunate to hear about your son’s experiences with health care services and that you are worried for him and his health after he turns 18. You spoke about having someone to vent to or work through with, which is a really helpful strategy. Do you have someone that you have found has helped you through things? Do you have any professional supports around you at the moment that are helping you? 


Re: School refusal, anxiety and gaming addiction

I sympathize with you. How is your progress going with your son?
My Daughter is exactly the same. I'm heading to school to see what can be done about changing her classes which she has said will make it easier for her to want to go. She keeps telling me the teachers are cranky and often yell at students that are struggling or have asked for help and that they don't give a s#;t about anything she has mentioned to them before.
All the best with your son. If anything in particular works let me know.
Star contributor

Re: School refusal, anxiety and gaming addiction

Message contains a hyperlink

Hi @Cargo2009 , 


So sorry to hear that you're going through similar struggles with your daughter. Can I ask how old she is? It's great that you're going to have a chat with the school- has your daughter seen the school counsellor at all? They can be a really useful person to connect with if you haven't already. How's your daughter finding school socially? 


We've also got some useful resources on school refusal  , if you're interested in having a read. Keep us posted with how you go with the school, I hope that they're able to give you both some support and assistance


Active scribe

Re: School refusal, anxiety and gaming addiction

I'm really sorry to hear about your son's struggles; it must be incredibly tough for both of you.


Re: School refusal, anxiety and gaming addiction

I'm really sorry to hear about your troubles. I have been going through something very similar with my 14 year old son. His problems started with beginning high school and a breakdown of the relationship he had with a close friend of his who also attended the same high school but no longer wanted to be friends. My son ended up being bullied at school, feeling like he had no friends and being completely overwhelmed by the schoolwork and school in general. He ended up with severe depression and anxiety and has been suicidal.
Like you our son became very focussed on gaming and we struggled for almost a year to find a psychiatrist that would see him.

We are now two years later and whilst things are by no means fixed we have got him to a better mental space and we have hope that things will keep improving. Everyone's situation is different and different things will work for different people but in the hope that you might find something useful or even of comfort here are the things that we found most helpful.
1. Keep calling psychiatrists for an appointment. I would google psychiatrists every couple of days and spend time calling them trying to find one that would take him on. Get a good referral letter from your GP that explains the situation in detail so if they ask for a referral letter to consider whether they'll accept your son as a patient they have an idea of how bad things are. Try contacting psychiatrists interstate. Some states have better availability and will be willing to teleconference. Be willing to travel if you can afford it. Most importantly don't give up.

2z whilst trying to find a psychiatrist, take him to a psychologist as often as you can. This provided our son with someone he felt understood him and wasn't judging him. It allowed him to offload some of the burden he was feeling. I would often sit in on my son's sessions which was really helpful as in that setting he would sometimes disclose information he otherwise wouldn't. There were also many times when he sat there and didn't say anything, or just talked about gaming but even that helped as it was someone there to support him.

2. Try not to worry about how far behind you think he's falling with learning. Yes he is going to fall behind but the best thing you can do to limit that is get his wellbeing in a better place. If he's feeling very depressed and anxious he is unlikely to learn much anyway. Take the pressure of yourself and him for a bit. One of the best breakthrough's we had with our son was when we stopped trying to get him to school. We told him he didn't have to go, we didn't make him do any learning at home and instead focussed on trying to build some good relationships for him and ease the anxiety. One day he said he didn't like that school was optional for him and he said he wanted to go back. We have eased him in. He attends for only a couple of hours a few days at week and there is zero focus on school work. We are focussing solely on him feeling safe and comfortable at school with the hope that once that happens he will be able to engage with learning again.

3. I have never been a big fan of gaming however it became a lifeline for my son. He explained it just the other week so well. Gaming provides him with a sense of belonging, he has friends that accept him and that he can interact with, he feels in control and that he can accomplish things. It is the only thing in life that made him happy. Basically everything he didn't have at school. I think on many occasions it was the only thing that stopped him from giving up on life entirely.
At first we had so much conflict with the gaming. We tried to limit the time spent, the games played etc. That conflict did more harm to him then spending every waking moment gaming. We became his enemy. He felt he had to hide what he was doing and that we, like everyone at school, didn't accept him for who he was. So we gave up with trying to restrict it. We embraced it and were grateful that it provided him with social connection and enjoyment. We started playing with him, we learnt about the games, talked about what was happening in them, a friend gave him a PC which he spent time upgrading and rebuilding etc. and after a while of not fighting with him about gaming and letting him control it we were able to gradually introduce other activities. A 15 minute walk on the beach, he started karate classes, he would come and eat dinner with the rest of the family. And most importantly he spent time playing with kids from school online and that gave him the confidence to be able to go back and try school again.

Obviously this is very much just our experience and your situation is entirely unique but I spent a lot of time feeling like we had to get him back to school, we had to focus on learning and gaming was bad and ultimately the exact opposite was what was important for our situation.

I hope things get better for you and your son. Whatever works for you and your son is the what is best.