Is my child addicted to video games? I am worried if I let them play they will become addicted. We always end up in arguments whenever I tell them to get off and do something else. Should I stop my child playing games now so they don’t get addicted?
These are some of the most common questions I get asked when it comes to parenting with technology. The short answer is, “no…..more than likely your child will not become ‘addicted’ to video games”. That’s not to say that some people don’t, but the average tween or teen hanging out on Minecraft and Clash of the Clans will not turn into a video game junkie incapable of doing anything else.
It does however, require a little bit of input from parents, in order to prevent them from sliding into the video game abyss.
There are few things that are more valued and important, particularly in a young boys world, than the video game. And there are few things that cause parents more anxiety and consternation than their child’s obsession with all things technology and gaming. Mostly their concerns are based around the amount of time played and the appropriateness of the content. Here I will focus on the first concern as it relates to addiction (the second concern requires a whole other post)!
Obsession, addiction or just plain fun?
A new game, like any new toy, is usually played often and with much gusto. Yes, many will even display obsession like behaviours. But generally this enthusiasm begins to wane a little and kids start to self regulate their playing time better. They play for shorter periods of time, they move on to different games and the novelty starts to wear off.
But of course not always.
Sometimes the games take over from normal everyday interactions with family and friends. Sometimes they are a distraction that prevent homework getting done. Sometimes it is easier to stay on a couch playing games than run around outside or climb a tree (if only we let them). Sometimes it is a way to deal with other disorders such as depression and anxiety. When it starts to interfere with normal life, then yes, gaming has become a problem.
Why the appeal?
It is important we take time to understand why our kids love playing games so much. I know myself as a child I spent my downtime watching TV (much less interactive) and later playing the Atari and Game boy versions of video games. I remember the elation at playing a new game, and the way I looked forward to these moments of ‘chilling out’. There is also a certain sense of control that comes with playing games. For those kids who dont always flourish on the sports field or excel socially, playing a video game gives them a chance to win, beat systems, move up levels and find a connection with other players. They can also make mistakes without an audience of peers looking on. Playing video games has been proven to be a great stress release for kids and can certainly help their emotional wellbeing. Being allowed to play games and talk about them can be an important part of how kids relate to the world.
As parents, it can be a good idea to play the games with our kids, not only to have some fun with them, but to show them we are not so far removed from their world. We want to avoid the rolled eyes and selective hearing of a child who believes they are hearing yet another nagging lecture from someone who just doesn’t get it. It doesn’t have to be for hours, just 10 minutes to get a little understanding and maybe even have a laugh with them.
So whilst we know there are many benefits to kids playing video games and there is much research to support these beliefs, we also know that too much of anything is never a good thing.
So what can you do to ensure your kids get to the point of self regulating, or at least finish up their game without a full blown argument every time?
Keep it under control
I have created this contract for parents to use with their kids. No it isn’t legally binding. No it isn’t to be used instead of teaching discipline and respect. No it isn’t a pretence that every child will consistently do what it says. No it isn’t going to work for all age groups or all kids. But it is a pretty solid way to open the lines of communication with your kids who are beginning to get immersed in the world of video games.
It is merely aimed at providing some boundaries for kids to abide by in order for them to continue to enjoy the privilege of playing their games in a safe and responsible manner.
But keep in mind, we are our kids greatest role model. If your eyes are constantly on a screen or you are forever swiping away on a phone, remember the message you are sending to your kids. Let them see you put it away, participate in real life and maintain those real life connections and experiences.
Click here for a PDF version of the video game contract
Whilst a good game can give kids the hope of being successful, a social connection and a meaning beyond the self, like all things in life, it needs to be balanced with other pursuits and everyday interactions.
Is your child a video game player? Do you have any concerns about how they play?