Gaming can be a great way for children and teens to connect with friends, complete challenges and learn new skills. However, much of this can be overshadowed by valid concerns about online safety and unhealthy amounts of screen time.
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Talking 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.
What are the positive and negative sides to gaming?
- Gaming can help children to improve their problem solving and decision-making skills
- It can be a social experience, and helps to strengthen communication between friends
- Gaming can also be therapeutic in dealing with small amounts of stress
- Gaming can be highly addictive
- It can cause safety concerns, family tension and expense
- Many parents and carers are finding it increasingly difficult to encourage their children away from their devices
Why is gaming so addictive?
Online gaming is particularly compulsive. Unlike video games where you are playing with an end goal and your rewards might be improving your highest score, with online gaming, there is no end to the game so there is the potential to play endlessly against - and with - other real people. Games are designed to keep the player interested and engaged. 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.
Encouraging healthy screen time
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.
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. Depending on their age, perhaps you can suggest that there is a cut off time, or agree in advance to some screen free time each day. Encourage your child or teen to pursue other activities such as sports, craft, reading, socialising, or play. Encourage mealtimes to be a device-free time. Take a look on your child’s device, many, including Xbox and PlayStation allow you to set screen time limits.
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.
Gaming and mental health
If you are concerned about your child's gaming habits, it can be hard to spot the signs that they are gaming excessively. Some of the signs include:
- Regularly avoiding social situations
- Becoming unreasonably upset or angry when you ask them to stop playing
- Struggling to wind down or go to sleep
- Refusing to go to school
Setting limits and ensuring that there is offline activities can help them balance the time they spend online. Talk to your teen and try to keep the conversation open so they feel they can share any concerns they have with you. If you feel your teen is really struggling with their mental health due to gaming addiction you can also contact the NHS National Centre for Gaming Disorders. Young Minds also has lots of practical advice for parents on managing Gaming and Mental Health. If you are worried that gaming is seriously affecting your child’s mental or physical health it may also be a good idea to speak to your GP.
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. 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.
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.
It is important to remind your child that information such as their full name, location, school and social plans are kept private. If your child has private conversations during games, ensure you are aware of what is being said and who they are talking to. Many online games have age restrictions and age-appropriate settings that can be enabled by an adult.
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. If you would like more information on how to deal with this you may want to look at our advice on cyberbullying.
It can feel overwhelming to keep on top of the popular games, below is a summary of a few and how you can manage them safely.
Age rating – No official age rating, recommended 13+
Players create an avatar and join a wide range of multiplayer games designed by other players. Enable parental controls to manage chat functions and security. If your child is under 13 years of age Roblox will automatically disable some chat features. The system will also block offensive words and phrases. Visit their safety centre for more information.
Age rating - 7+
A virtual world where players can build anything within various environments and terrains. You can implement restrictions on chat, access to multiplayer games and marketplace purchases. Visit their safety centre for more information.
Age rating – Recommended 13+
A single or multiplayer online game, players must battle to survive. Parental controls can be enabled to set time limits, manage exposure to voice and text chat, and filter language. You can also set your profile to private, friends only. Vist their safety centre for more information.
Call of Duty
Age rating – 18+
Games are inspired by World War II, futuristic worlds and space. Call of Duty is described as an electronic shooter game. Children should not be playing this game as it is for adults only and contains adult appropriate content.
Grand Theft Auto
Age rating – 18+
Action/adventure game where players must complete missions to progress. Much of the game is based around driving and shooting. Children should not be playing this game as it is for adults only and contains adult appropriate content.
Age rating – 12+
Building and planning game, online multiplayer. Players must expand their city with buildings, families, basic utilities, and public services within a budget. There is a live chat function however you can also play offline.
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.
Other organisations that may be useful
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