It’s one of my biggest parenting regrets to date: About a decade ago, I failed to put limits around my teen’s passion for playing video games. He loved them, and I let him.
I convinced myself that my son’s video gaming provided him with an instant community where he daily climbed to the top of the scoreboard. A personal, consistent win for my first-born, more quiet child, right?
Looking back, I lied to myself at crucial moments along the way. I minimized his growing obsession by calling it a hobby. As he grew more engaged with gaming, he became more distant from our family. I ignored the fact that he was acquiring friends I didn’t know and forfeiting time outdoors for his preferred virtual landscape.
When our relationship hit several rough patches in later years, I failed to connect that friction back to his topheavy gaming habits. All the while, as a mom, I knew deep down (in my mom “knower”) I could have — should have — done more to limit his gaming.
Not surprising, the World Health Organization (WHO) just recently classified a new form of addiction called “gaming disorder.” That designation means health professionals can now treat dangerous levels of video gaming as a legitimate addiction.
Thankfully, my son’s one-time excessive gaming didn’t reach the addiction level even though it was serious enough to negatively impact our family dynamic.
I can’t go back. However, if there’s a parent who can learn from my heartache in this area, I hope this post might help.
We know gaming isn’t the enemy. In fact, gaming has been credited with helping kids overcome depression, anxiety, and social insecurities. Gaming is also blowing open new doors in education as we understand how today’s digital learners (many of whom are gamers) consume information and find solutions. We know gaming skills are helping build tomorrow’s cybersecurity experts, app developers, programmers, military strategists, surgeons, and leaders.
With the benefits understood, balance is the magic word when it comes to the healthy use of any technology we welcome into our homes.
The WHO’s official definition of “gaming disorder” includes:
- A pattern of behavior for at least 12 months in which gaming is out of control.
- The pattern of behavior must show an “increased priority given to gaming” to the point that gaming “takes precedence over other interests and daily activities.”
- A “continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences,” or behavior that affects one’s relationships, education, or occupation.
So what can you do if you recognize even one of the warning signs above? Plenty. It’s never too late to make changes in your family. All you need is knowledge, action, and some mad follow-through skills.
5 Ways to Help Kids Balance Gaming
Set and enforce time limits. Start setting technology time limits when your kids are young. If your kids are older, don’t shy away from announcing new house rules starting today. Yes, kids may complain, but experts agree: Rules help kids feel loved and safe. Parental control software will help you set time limits on your child’s device usage and help minimize exposure to potentially malicious or inappropriate websites. Another tip: Set a timer on your smartphone or go old school and crank up that kitchen timer. Take it from this regret-filled mom: Time limits will make every difference in helping kids find balance.
Be a role model. You can’t tell your kids they have to get off of Call of Duty then spend the next eight hours constructing high-scoring word combos on Words with Friends. Model smart tech use and moderation. Even place that kitchen timer next to you if you need it.
Roll up your sleeves — get gaming. Jump into the game with your kids so you can better understand the content, the community, and the messages coming into your home. Get a glimpse into the appeal of the game for your child and the skills needed to advance. Once you have this perspective, you will intuitively know how to monitor your child’s time on specific games. This is also a great opportunity to share your values on certain topics or narratives addressed in games.
Stay safe while gaming. Gaming’s purpose is fun, so it’s rare that a child or even a parent is focused too much on safety when kids log on to play. Still, there are safety risks. A recent McAfee survey found that parents are concerned with issues connected to gaming such as sexual predators, data risks, inappropriate content, and bullying, but few take steps to remedy those concerns. Several products such as McAfee Total Protection can help keep connected devices safe from malware and McAfee WebAdvisor can help you avoid dangerous websites and links.
Don’t overreact. It’s easy to fear what we don’t understand. True video game addiction is rare. The WHO’s new classification isn’t describing the average gamer who spends a few of hours a day gaming with friends. The designation targets serious gaming habits that destroy people’s lives such as neglecting hygiene and nutrition, rejecting loved ones, staying up all night, and losing jobs due to gaming. The more you understand about your child’s favorite games, the better parenting decisions you will be able to make.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).