Online gaming has become the new going out for many young people as they meet their friends online to play games alongside and against each other. All these wonderful and innovative things you can do online is often overshadowed by online dangers and worries about how much time they spend on gaming.
Talking to your child about gaming
A survey by ChildWise revealed that school children spend an average of six hours a day in front of screens (TV, games consoles and online). 43% have internet access in their bedrooms while a separate study suggested the figure for teenagers is closer to ten hours. And it’s not just children who become obsessed with online gaming.
Talking to your teen and having open conversations are very important. This can help your teen feel more reassured to come to you if they have concerns and to listen to your worries about their gaming.
Why is online gaming so addictive?
It’s been suggested that between five and ten per cent of the 46.6 million web users in Britain may be addicts. Online gaming is particularly compulsive. A recent report by Sweden's Youth Care Foundation described the extremely popular multi-player game World of Warcraft as "more addictive than crack cocaine". And if this is the effect on adults, what about our children?
Unlike video games where the rewards might be improving your highest score or getting your name on the 'hall of fame', with online gaming, there is no end to the game so there is the potential to play endlessly against - and with - other real people, explains Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University's International Gaming Research Unit.
This can be immensely rewarding and psychologically engrossing. The addiction is caused by the 'partial reinforcement effect' (PRE) - where you’re rewarded often enough to keep playing but not so predictably that you get bored, like fruit machines paying out to gamblers at certain intervals, to make the games more attractive. "This critical psychological ingredient keeps players responding in the hope that another 'reward' is just around the corner," explains Professor Griffiths.
Keeping teens safe
If your teen spends hours gaming, they may struggle with winding down. Ensure that they take regular breaks and walk about too. This will help them emotionally and physically. Double check that there are no credit or debit cards associated with the game so that you are not charged with any in-game purchases.
Encourage them to talk about their gaming so that you are aware of what they are doing online. This will help if they do come across something they are concerned about so they can talk to you. Help your teen keep safe and ensure they are aware of safety rules such as not sharing personal information with anyone online as they do not know for certain who they are playing with.
If they are experiencing bullying on a gaming site, ensure that you get as much information as possible and take screenshots of the bullying as evidence. Work with your teen to come up with a plan that they are happy with to deal with the bullying which may include blocking, deleting, or reporting.
A lot of games have age restrictions, and many children and young people may say to you that all their friends are playing them, and you may feel that there is no harm in letting them have this game. It is important to be aware that these games may have themes that are not age appropriate including sexualised or violent scenarios. If you do not feel comfortable with them playing these games, explain your reasons to them.
As a parent you can exert a measure of control. If the gaming starts affecting family life, if your child starts losing touch with friends or if you notice a behavioural change then address the issue immediately.
Moderation and common sense play an important role in managing this. Any activity when taken to excess can cause problems in a person's life. And there's lots of evidence suggesting gaming can have very positive effects. It can make individuals feel better about themselves and raise their self-esteem as well as being therapeutic in dealing with stress.
Encourage offline activities to help your teen minimise how much time they spend online. You can ask them to make plans to spent time offline. It could be a family active session, board games or perhaps a weekly walk.
It may help to create a family agreement to help your teen manage their gaming time. This is a great way to encourage positive behaviour and have a safe experience. Childnet have produced a great informative family agreement resource that you can use.
It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker. Help and advice is available from Internet Matters if you are concerned about gaming.
If you are worried that your child has developed a dependency for gaming, you may be able to get support and advice from the National Centre for Gaming Disorders from the NHS.
Watch this video on how to make the most of family time on and offline
This page was updated on October 2021