Can’t keep your child away from computer games? 10 steps to healthier gaming for kids

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Today’s video games have become so high-tech that it’s hard not to be amazed. Not only do they have hyper-realistic graphics, they are now designed more intelligently. Equipped with a multitude of functionalities, players can run, shoot, jump, dance and create within a game. Players can also choose to play on their own, with a couple of friends, or even with people all over the world on online mode. These games offer so many options and tons of action, it’s no wonder kids can’t help but get hooked on them.

What’s so bad about that? Aren’t video games educational?

It’s true that video games can have positive effects on children. Studies have shown that because of its interactivity, children develop useful reasoning and memory skills. They can also help develop creativity, critical thinking, as well as leadership and team work. However, studies are also in agreement that too much video gaming can lead to negative effects, far outweighing the positive ones. Too much gaming, or gaming addiction (which is now declared a mental disorder) has been found to lead to anxiety and depression. Furthermore, some games can harm the brain, damage long term concentration, and contribute to obesity and muscular and skeletal disorders when played too often.

It doesn’t help that most video games are designed to encourage continuous playing. They are designed for non-stop involvement – players aim to reach higher and higher levels to increase excitement or the feeling of accomplishment as each one gets more difficult than the last. They are also convinced to spend money to unlock each level (or to add more accessories to help them win). They get so hooked on the thrill and excitement that they get addicted to the game. They begin to crave consistent brain stimulation. This is why when not playing, gamers constantly complain of being bored. They become irritable and fidgety. Some begin to withdraw from real life and become anti-social.

How much is too much?

A study found that playing video games more than five hours a day is considered dangerous and could be a sign that players are addicted (Kansas State University study). Another study says that spending three hours or more can take a toll on a child’s mood (Scientist discovers the ideal amount of time kids should spend playing video games) and would make them likely to have problems with hyperactivity, attention and relating to their peers. But there are always disclaimers to these studies. Results can depend on the child’s age (younger ones may not have as much tolerance or self-control), temperament as well as the type of games that they play.

Doctors advice that it’s all about balance. If your children already spend a bulk of their time at school and doing extracurricular activities, allowing them some down time to play an hour or so seems reasonable. Since you know your kids better than anyone, you must determine for yourself the reasonable amount of time that you will allow them to play.

How do you know that your child is addicted to gaming?

The child:

  1. is always talking about the game
  2. gets bored, fidgety and irritable when not playing
  3. can play hours on end
  4. gets defensive when told about their excessive gaming
  5. gets angry or explosive when told to stop
  6. sacrifices basic needs like sleep, hunger or personal hygiene
  7. complains about chronic back, hand or wrist pain
  8. foregoes or forgets basic responsibilities like homework or chores
  9. seems distant or preoccupied when not gaming. May also have poor communication and social skills, and is not making eye contact.

If you see that your child is displaying any or all of these symptoms, it is time to curb their video gaming habit.

How to encourage healthy gaming habits:

  1. Choose age-appropriate games – Check the game’s age ratings before you allow them to download or purchase it. Research about the games that they like. Check out sites like Commonsense Media to know about the games as well as the latest on video gaming and other media and tech trends. The more you know, the better you can supervise your child. Also, make it clear that you should have approval of all the games that they will buy, even if they use their own money to get them.
  2. Establish a time limit – This includes all forms of screen time like watching videos on YouTube and posting on Instagram or Snapchat. If younger kids can’t tell time yet, set an alarm. Remind older kids five minutes before their game time is up so that they’ll have the chance to save their progress (be firm but not heartless!). Be strict about the time limit. Warn them that every minute they exceed will be subtracted from their next gaming time.
  3. Let them play only after their responsibilities are done – Help them establish their priorities. Homework, chores, personal hygiene, family time and dinner must take precedence over video games. Make them notice that game time is a reward and not a privilege.
  4. Keep computers and gaming consoles out of their bedroom – Some kids can be sneaky and try playing a game or two when everyone’s asleep. Keeping the gadgets out of their bedroom removes the temptation of playing after hours.
  5. Play the bad guy (and be consistent about rules) – Don’t worry about not being the “cool parent”. Your child’s health and wellness are your priorities. Be consistent with your rules. Don’t give in at the slightest complaint. They will not take you seriously if you keep changing your mind.
  6. Keep an open door if they play online games – Kids can sometimes lose their inhibitions (and manners) in the heat of the game. Knowing that their parents are within earshot will help keep them in line. Staying close (and monitoring them) can also prevent them from falling for online scams and protect them from catfishing (a person using a fake identity online to scam kids), as well as inappropriate messages.
  7. Allow them to be bored – Don’t worry if they keep complaining that they’re bored when not playing video games. Learning how to be bored and coping with boredom are life skills they need to learn to become responsible and productive human beings. Feeling bored can push them to find more active or creative outlets.
  8. Make time for family activities – Get your kids in real-world, active play. Make them excited about activities such as playing outside, swimming, or hockey. Get them into a hobby like knitting or arts and crafts. Spend some weekend evenings holding family board game nights. There is more to life than Fortnite and Minecraft! Your kids should learn that there is a world out there waiting to be discovered.
  9. Learn about technology – The more you know about technology and gaming, the better you’ll be able to handle your kids’ questions and objections. Keep updated not only about gaming’s negative effects but on their benefits as well. Your kids are living in the digital age where things are getting more and more advanced. Help them succeed in this environment by training them how to use technology wisely and responsibly.
  10. Always talk to your kids – Always make an effort to connect with your kids and know what is going on in their lives. Some kids who may be having trouble at school or are being bullied look for an escape and turn to video games. Observe if your kid seems to be hiding from real life. Let your child know that you will always be ready to listen and support if they have problems. Read How to encourage open communication with your kids for more tips.

Sources: Video game addiction: How do you know your child is addicted? Laura Agadoni, Care,com; How to tell if your child is addicted to video games – and how to help, Stephen Bradshaw, Motherly; 25 + positive and negative effects of video games, Reynaldo Tumbokon, Raise Smart Kids; Seven ways parents can encourage healthy gaming habits, Beasts of Balance; Children and video games: A parent’s guide, Ellie Gibson; 5 ways to regulate video games for a peaceful home, Reuben and Efraim Meulenberg,; and How much videogames is too much? (Parts 1-3), Kent Toussaint, Teen Therapy Centre. Accessed December 20, 2018.

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Read 5 tips for smart digital parenting for more tips.

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