Parent Line receives thousands of calls from parents and carers who are concerned about their child’s online gaming. Concerns are wide-ranging, including worries about exposure to violent and anti-social content, the amount of time spent gaming and aggression from children in response to limit setting.
Is online gaming all bad?
While much is written about the negative aspects of gaming, there is growing recognition of the role online gaming can have in helping young people feel connected with their peers. Some online games can help young people develop vital skills such as team work, cooperation and critical thinking which can be applied elsewhere in their lives. Gaming can also help children develop self-regulation skills to balance time online with other life activities.
When should parents worry about online gaming?
As with any behaviour, online gaming becomes problematic when it interferes with or overshadows other aspects of life. The key questions when considering if gaming has become problematic are:
- Is gaming monitored and appropriately supervised?
- How does gaming impact family relationships and activities?
- How does gaming impact your child’s sleep and physical and emotional well-being?
- Does your child respond with aggression when limits are set around gaming?
Generally problems associated with gaming can be indicative of other issues happening in a child’s life or within the family. Many children use gaming as a way to avoid dealing with difficult emotions and life issues so simply banning gaming may not solve the entire problem.
Many parents worry that their child is addicted to the online game, Fortnite. The game involves 100 players trying to kill one another in order to be the last player left alive. Parents are understandably concerned about young children having access to Fortnite as it is not only violent but also ultra-addictive. It is rated as not-suitable for children aged under-12 years.
What makes Fortnite so addictive?
A vibrant colour scheme, high-quality sound, easily identifiable outfits or ‘skins’ and the psychology of the ‘near-miss’ combine to make Fortnite highly addictive. As players only have a 1-in-100 chance of winning a battle, they do not really expect to win so, when they get close, like into the last 5 to 10 players, the dopamine or feel-good ‘hit’ they receive for not winning is almost as big as if they were to win. These small accomplishments are rewarded in the brain almost as much as large ones.
What can parents do?
While many parents feel powerless to address the impact of gaming in their family, there are some steps parents can take to achieve a healthy balance:
- Like any other aspect of a child’s life, gaming should not be a completely private activity
- Be informed about what games your child plays, being mindful of content and age classifications
- Show an interest in what your child is playing and even play with them from time to time
- Negotiate appropriate limits with your child around gaming
- Putting limits around gaming can be met with resistance so be prepared for how to manage this
Changing a child’s gaming habits can be challenging and Parent Line counsellors can provide you with support, strategies and links to services to help you do this.