It can be very difficult at times to pull your child away from that special video game that they love so much, and this is why it’s so important to prepare your children for the ‘online gaming world.’ A recent study from the Pew Research Center indicates that 59 percent of girls and 84 percent of boys ages 13-17 regularly play video games. Many of these games are played online and may involve multiple players.
In addition to safety and privacy concerns, parents must ensure that their child’s gaming activities do not become an addiction. When a gaming addiction develops, children may become detached from reality, resulting in negative consequences regarding their ability to socialize and regulate their emotions. In extreme cases, parents may need to look to a professional for help. However, there are steps you can take to help prevent this.
Setting healthy boundaries for your kids can help to guard against extreme gaming behavior. For example, ensure that children have their homework finished before allowing them to engage in gaming. Also, limit gaming sessions to a set time period of time. When finished playing video games, children should move on to other activities, engaging in active movement and social interaction with others.
Parents should also know the ratings on games, talk to their children about how they feel when they play, and even play these games along with their children to experience them first-hand. I know I do this quite often with my children, so I can see the kind of activity that is taking place within the game.
Here are some helpful talking points to help start the conversation with your child about video games and online gaming:
1. Can you show me your favorite game?
It is a good idea to get to know the games yourself and sit down with your child to let them show you how the game is played. Talk to your child about what they can do in the game they’re playing. What is the overall objective of the game? What do they like most about playing it? Is there anything about the game that they don’t like?
2. Can you play against other kids?
Some games have optional multi-player modes where your child can play with and against others. Make sure you’re clear on whether you are happy for your child to play with others. If you are, ask them who they are playing with. Establish rules around this that you can both agree on. Most games have a rating you can check to see if they are age-appropriate.
3. How much time should you spend playing?
It makes life a lot easier if you bring this subject up early on; it can be tricky to change well-established practices. Talk about why it’s important to have limits. It’s a good opportunity to talk about the importance of being active, being outdoors, and spending time in the company of other children, and striking that suitable balance is key.
Remember, it can be hard to enforce restrictions. It can also be difficult to accurately track the amount of time they are spending playing the game. Some devices allow you to use parental controls to strictly enforce daily or weekly limits. In many cases, the device simply switches off once the allocated time has been exceeded. While this is handy; it can be very frustrating for a child who is just about to reach a landmark in the game after a great deal of effort. We recommend not relying exclusively on parental controls, but use them to support your usual parenting approaches.
4. Can you chat with the other kids you are playing?
Many games allow players to chat with each other. Be sure to agree on rules around this, and ask your child about who they think it is okay to talk to online. Discuss your expectations around the type of language they should not use and how they treat others. Be very clear on the consequences of using bad language, being disrespectful, or not following the other agreed rules. The threat of withdrawing access to the game can be a good deterrent to bad behavior.
Check if the game gives the option of disabling chat and if there is a safe chat mode. Some games allow limited forms of chatting where gamers can communicate with each other by selecting from a menu of phrases.
5. What sort of information is NOT okay to share when gaming?
Explain to them the importance of not giving away any personal information online. In the case of online gaming, it is a good idea not to use real names for game profiles and not to share passwords with friends.
6. What would you do if something inappropriate happens when you are playing a game online?
It’s important that your child is familiar with safety settings, privacy and reporting tools. It is equally important that your child understands they can talk to you if they experience anything inappropriate online. This is also a good opportunity to encourage your child to play fairly and treat other gamers with respect.
Whether we like it or not, the online gaming world is here to stay so it’s best to be proactive and responsible when navigating this with your children. As much as we may think some of the games in this ‘virtual world’ are disturbing or are indoctrinating our children with bad behavior, these games are here to stay. We have to teach our children how to play and use these games responsibly.
After all, I can still remember when Nintendo & Atari were the ‘new gaming devices.’ There was a time when people thought a game called ‘Donkey Kong’ was violent because they hit each other. Nowadays kids are seeing things in these newer games that are a lot more disturbing than that, and in ten years those same people will be saying the same thing about the games of today.
Ultimately, the responsibility lies with us as parents. We have to teach our kids right from wrong, so when they are out in the ‘real world’ they will know the difference.