We know that video games often get a bad wrap from media, parents and society as a whole as they lament their intrusion into a nostalgic world of books, board games and outside play. But of course, this is not the ‘fault’ of video games and nor are video games here to destroy the idyllic childhoods we had in mind for our offspring. They are just another form of entertainment, storytelling, pastime, social platform and sometimes stress reliever that can be a perfectly healthy addition to our children’s lives. They can also while away many hours from a child’s day, promote violent play and misogynistic themes and prevent children from getting the exercise and sleep they well need. So like all modern day developments, we should get active and empowered about the role these relatively new toys will play. Rather than cower in a world of anxiety and fear, constantly clicking on the alarmist headlines, let’s instead take the reigns and work with our kids, and with the technology, to ensure it can be a positive addition to their lives.
Like all things parenting, we know that kids thrive when they have some boundaries based on a fair understanding of the need for those boundaries and based on a set of principles that aligns with family values.
So here are some of those boundaries you might like to put in place to help your child enjoy then benefits of video games. These will not apply to all kids. These will change as your child changes. But it’s a pretty good set of guidelines to get you started.
Rules for happy, healthy gamers:
- Find out about a game your child wants to play, research it yourself rather than just ‘OK it’ because EVERY other child is allowed to play it.
- Watch others play if you are not sure of the reviews. Make up your own mind by watching the play, the themes, the language and then determine if it is suitable for your child
- Look at your individual child and see how they are coping with their gaming. If they start missing meals, throwing tantrums, miss sports practise, neglect pets, chores, homework or other people…then you might want to make some changes.
- Discuss with them why you might need to make some changes or have those time limits or boundaries
- Have discussions about video game playing away from the games. You are unlikely to get a decent response whilst they are in the midst of battle or just about to be the last man standing in Fortnite
- Play it with them. You might like it. It could be a good way to bond. You might not like it. Thats ok too, but showing an interest and finding out about the appeal makes it easier for us to relate and easier to parent them.
- Make use of settings buttons. There is so many ways games can be made safer and can promote a far more positive experience if you go and check out the settings. It may be you can block who can talk to your child, who can request them as a friend, what language they hear, what content they view, who can chat, comment etc
- Makes sure your kid knows how to block and report people.
- Avoid put gaming consoles in the bedroom. We know the games are hard enough to resist for our young people with underdeveloped brains and capacity to always regulate their timing and behaviour…so why make it so much harder for them by putting a gaming console right under their nose. The last thing they need is to reach for a controller in the middle of the night to play ‘just one game’.
- Avoid headphones for younger users so you can hear conversations and be alert to any sharing of private information or bullying behaviours.
- Make it clear to other parents if you have a problem with your child playing a certain game when they go on play dates.
- Always insist on leaving the game to eat a meal. Preferably with the family at the dinner table but never whilst they are playing.
- Make sure you build a culture of ‘balanced play’ into your homes. The games are just one of many ways they need to be entertained or hang out with mates. Provide many other opportunities to get out, be active and connect in real life.
- Having another activity for them to go on with once a game is finished, especially something active or even rough and tumble if a more active/violent game has been played can really help. This helps to reduce the levels of adrenalin and expel the cortisol that has accumulated playing these types of games. Also skin to skin contact or even a cuddle can help release the oxytocin. Gaming can result in an overloaded sensory system, so giving them an active transition activity can actually help them to calm themselves down.
- Rejoice in some of the positive elements of game playing. Praise their teamwork, perseverance, trial and error or thinking outside the box that has taken place in order for them to get to a new level, build a new fortress or even win the battle.
- Read reviews on themodernparent.net or commonsensemedia.org
When it comes to parenting and video games, I meet plenty of parents who don’t want to know about it, fear their child will become addicted to gaming but feel too overwhelmed to do much about it. Then there are those that have no idea what their kids are doing with the games and thus equally lack the ability to do much about them. So hopefully we can continue to talk in ways that recognise the role they will continue to play. To understand that like anything it can be about balance and perspective. Like anything, knowledge is power, and when we understand the risks and the benefits, we can make the best decisions for our families and ultimately help our kids make the best decisions for themselves.
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