WORDS: Manatee County School Social Workers and Psychologists
Video games are popular with both kids and adults. A typical American child will play a video game with some regularity in their daily lives. Research supports that over 90% of children engage in gaming. Ever since video games came onto the markets in the second half of the 20th century, they have been surrounded by controversy.
Just like television before it, parents thought that video games were a bad influence on children and got in the way of other more worthwhile activities, such as academics and playing with friends. Since these games can play such a big part in our children’s lives, the student services department wishes to provide parents with a guide of Dos and Don’ts for gaming when it comes to children. In no order, here are some suggestions:
There are several benefits to playing video games. Video games have been found to increase problem solving and social skills, sharpen hand-eye coordination, enhance critical thinking skills, and heighten concentration. In games like Minecraft, for example, playing the game increases a child’s creativity to explore architectural feats that they have created.
Some children even code their own modifications in Minecraft or produce their own video games. These “indie games” have been flourishing in the last few years, and there are even conferences to allow players to experience each other’s games and receive feedback.
Parents engaging in gaming with their children has been found to be beneficial to family bonding. For example, finding out more about their child’s interests or discussing aspects of the game can enhance a parent’s relationship with their child. However, one thing parents should not do is ignore their children while they play. Having video games in a room where parents can supervise and monitor their behavior while playing should be considered. This also avoids the child being isolated for long periods of time from their family.
Just like television before them, video games tend to sometimes become a pseudo babysitter. Many times at school, children can be heard talking with their friends about how much they play during all hours of the day and night. Limits need to be set to help them balance gaming with other daily life activities, such as playing outside and finishing their homework.
Most studies suggest that kids under five-years-old should have an hour or less of screen time per day. As children get older, strict limits should still be put in place, and agreed to ahead of time, in terms of their allowed amount of screen time. Additionally, a time when all electronics are turned off and stored away, which studies suggest should be an hour or two before bed, is important in creating a consistent bedtime routine.
Stores have become more consistent about not letting a child buy a video game meant for an adult without a parent or guardian being present. Video game producers have developed a rating system to help parents decide what is appropriate for their children to play. For example, children should not be playing “M” (mature) rated games like Call of Duty, Halo, or Grand Theft Auto.
These games were made for a more mature adult audience. Please refer to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) website http://www.esrb.org for this information. Also, before buying the game, ask the sales person his opinion or look at online reviews about the game to make sure it is appropriate for your child.
With social media and the advent of online gaming, more teenagers (72%) game online with their friends. While meeting new friends in real life and online can be a positive experience, it can also expose them to being bullied and taken advantage of. Having an honest dialogue with your child or teen about what cyberbullying is, and what to do if they are affected, is as important as discussing ways to keep their identity safe.
Children and adolescents should know not to put sensitive information online and be wary of clicking on links or apps from strangers. Turning off the micro-transactions in games is important too so that they do not spend money on items for in-game bonuses without consulting with their parents. As previously discussed, observing and playing along with your child can help to begin these discussions.
In conclusion, while video games can provide challenges for parents, boys and girls of all ages find inspiration, joy, and relief when playing them. The freedoms you may allow in this area all come down to knowing your child, their strengths, and their limitations. If your child is struggling in several areas of their lives (i.e., low grades and minimal social interactions) then limiting or not engaging in certain video games should be considered.
However, if your child enjoys gaming, has other interests at home or at school, and is meeting his or her goals, then a level of Fortnite or Minecraft is not likely to have a negative impact. Ultimately, trust your judgement and intuition as a parent. Be safe and have fun with your family and friends, as there are dozens of different games for all age groups to enjoy!