Gaming can be a touchy subject. Many parents didn’t grow up playing video games, or if they did, it was on a coin-operated arcade machine. There simply wasn’t the scope to game as children can nowadays – you would need bottomless pockets and not mind standing up for hours on end.
Today, gaming is an industry worth nearly £120 billion, and it is growing by the year. A massive 93% of children in the UK play some sort of video game, either on their phones or on a console. Many parents feel completely lost when the subject is raised and their child’s talk of Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite goes completely over their head.
Parents are – understandably – often concerned that video games might negatively impact their children, either in their social development or education. This article should answer some common questions about gaming, help you to understand the culture, and importantly, to know how much is too much.
Gaming culture isn’t just playing video games, it now involves children watching other people game online (streaming), streaming their own content and watching professional competitions. Esports or professional gaming competition prizes can run into the millions.
Seen through a positive lens, gaming is no different to any other recreational activity. It has many benefits and when used correctly, it can be a fantastic way for children to socialise, improve their motor skills and relax, leaving the stress of the school day behind them. However, like any activity, gaming is only safe in moderation and it is possible for a child to become addicted. This doesn’t usually happen overnight; there will be a build up and some telltale signs. Below are some of the dangers of problematic gaming. No-one knows your child better than you do, so no-one is better placed than you to spot the signs.
We all know how important sleep is for our children and we can usually notice when they have missed a few hours. Gaming is incredibly stimulating, involves several brain areas, requires quick reaction times and can stimulate our ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Gaming too close to bedtime can therefore result in a child losing precious hours of sleep.
We recommend that children stop gaming at least one hour before they go to sleep. This gives the brain and body time to calm down.
When gaming affects home life
Like any escapist activity, it can be tempting for children to game rather than do their homework or chores. No-one enjoys everything they do but as adults, we have the scope to understand that these activities play a vital role in the rest of our lives. We’re able to enjoy ourselves because we take care of the more mundane aspects of our existence.
One of the key predictors of problematic gaming is ignoring schoolwork, chores and ‘real-world’ socialising. This can have a snowball effect whereby a child ignores their responsibilities by gaming, develops problems and hence games more to escape.
Helping your child to game well
We know that the amount of time some children can spend gaming is alarming. We also know that in the heat of the moment, after one too many gaming-related arguments or missed homework deadlines, the knee-jerk response can be to ban a child from gaming. We appreciate that this seems like the most loving thing to do at the time: you want your child to do well and gaming is standing in the way.
It’s important that you foster a healthy dialogue around gaming as soon as possible. Children are intelligent, inquisitive and intuitive. They know (most of the time) if you don’t know what you’re talking about. If you aren’t an authority on the subject, it lowers your ability to come to a sensible compromise.
Ask your child about gaming, what games they like to play, why they enjoy it and what they are doing when they game. If you want, you could ask to join in. At the very worst, your child might get to laugh at you attempting to control a first-person shooter, and at best, you’ll get to join your child in one of their favourite activities.
Communicate your needs to your child, and have clear boundaries and expectations. We recommend that you create set hours of the day when your child can play games, and only when other areas of their life such as schoolwork and chores are taken care of.
If you are concerned that your child might be speaking to strangers online or be exposed to conversation or material that is too old for them, you can set an age limit on all gaming consoles. You can also restrict ‘chat’ settings so that they can only communicate with a pre-approved list of people.
Additionally, if you notice problematic behaviour, it often pays to look at the whole picture of your child’s life. Often, gaming isn’t the cause of a problem but a symptom. Problem gaming and depression or anxiety often occur together. If you have an honest and open relationship with your child about gaming, it is more likely that they will be able to bring their problems to you.
About the author: Paul Flynn is the CEO of Gamewell, a platform that is committed to building a positive, informed environment that supports healthy gaming.