Learning Points: Getting a grip on our children’s gaming habits

Opening a dialogue with the videogamer in your life, and how to avoid being the fall guy over screen time
Learning Points: Getting a grip on our children’s gaming habits

Now that we are facing into more restrictions we can feel fatigued about all the challenges we have had to face in recent times. The specialists are predicting that the second surge is coming and we have to be resolute for another while longer. Of course, we will come through this and we will all be out again meeting our friends and living our normal lives. 

I have seen a huge increase in the amount of students seeking out therapy because they are anxious about everything that is going on around them and I have been asked to give webinars to parents, teachers and HSE workers about managing the year ahead while we go through this global health crisis. We have had to live through a pandemic, which has challenged us, as parents, in ways we never dreamed possible this time last year.

Another area parents are really struggling with is how to monitor the amount of time their children are spending on devices and games. Before this pandemic impacted every facet of our lives, the WHO classified gaming as a new mental health condition. Excessive gaming is characterised by ‘a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour’. 

I work with families every day of the week and I know first hand that gaming is addictive and that it shares many commonalities with other compulsions such as gambling or alcoholism. The American Psychiatric Association states that ‘gaming prompts a neurological response that influences feelings of pleasure and reward’. 

The worrying thing for me with all of this recent classification is that the DSMVI, which doesn’t have a release date yet, will more than likely, list gaming as a mental health disorder and then we will be looking at a pharmacological response to our children’s gaming habit. 

When this happens we will firmly be living in a dystopian nightmare, so it is important, now more than ever, that we get a grip of our children’s gaming habits and we protect them from these games that are designed to be immersive and show them how to manage their habit in a healthy way. The last thing any parent should want for their children is to be on heavy psychotropic drugs.

There is a social aspect to gaming that most parents are unaware of. With the advent of these multiplayer online games came a huge shift in why children play games. In earlier times children generally played against the computer or invited their friends over to play. However, in today’s world, gaming allows children to meet up with friends and play a game with people all over the world without leaving their room. So, there is a social aspect to the game. 

It is important to understand the game your child is playing before you think about introducing a policy into the family. And every family should have a technology policy. A family that operates without one will struggle to maintain a grip on this new phenomenon. 

Parents often say to me, ‘it’s like he changes into a different person when he plays, the bad language, the aggression. It’s scary’. Yes, of course, it is scary to see your child transform into something they are not in real life. 

But this is a version of their life and we have to police it as parents. Before I start drafting up the policy I explain that the most desirable outcome for the family is that the children are able to monitor their own behaviour and make the right decision when no one is watching. 

So, I tell them; if they can regulate the amount of time they spend on their devices they will be allowed on their devices for one month without supervision. This usually gets the children’s attention. When I’m setting out a policy with a family I always outline some of the, what I call, ‘non-negotiables’. 

At the top of this list is respect. Children must be taught to respect the family and its rules. But this can only be achieved if the rules being implemented are not dictatorial. An oppressive regime is never healthy and children suffer when rules are stifling.

The rules have to allow children to get things wrong but they must also be accountable for the mistakes they make, in a reasonable way. So children must be a part of the policy. They have to feel included in the process or they will not engage with it. Due to Covid-19 children are on their devices more, this is to be expected. So sit down with your child and ask them how much time they think is a reasonable amount for device time. 

You’d be surprised at how honest they can be if they feel they are being genuinely consulted and involved in the family rules. Now more than ever our children need minding when it comes to device usage. Sit down as a family and draw up a healthy policy, expect a robust debate but remember you’re the parent. You are the one who sets the culture in your family.

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