Author: Tim Woody, CIT
Kids are spending more time in virtual spaces than ever before, accelerated over the past year by the pandemic. There has been an explosion of technological advances over the past two decades which has led some researchers to label today’s kids the “i” (or “internet”) generation.
Many parents I talk to are concerned about the time their kids spend on video games and whether or not their child might be addicted to these virtual activities. They want to know: how do I set boundaries with screen time and how much video game time is too much?
Kids typically don’t see their video game time as problematic and feel like parents don’t understand this important dimension of their lives. How can families bridge this gap and how should we understand the role video games play in our lives?
1. Video Games are Captivating
Play is an important part of our human existence. Modern play often involves the use of digital spaces. These spaces engage more of the senses and demand more of our attention than older, more traditional forms of play. Video games are so incredibly good at getting our full attention that a study found that a video designed for burn patients was actually much more effective at managing their pain than pharmaceutical pain killers.
The absorbing nature of video games can be both positive and negative. Our human brains learn best when engrossed in a task, which means these virtual spaces can be fertile ground for learning. The negative side of the riveting nature of video gaming means we can lose track of time or get wrapped up in the wrong kinds of learning.
2. Video Games are Social
Video games are often social experiences. Over 70% of individuals who play video games play with a friend, cooperatively or competitively. In a time where social connections can be few and far between or limited to social media, having a space where goals can be accomplished in a social context can provide life-long connections and provide a platform for social skills to be practiced.
Of course, the potential anonymity of these spaces are where cyber bullying can create harm. This is especially true for girls. A recent study found that 59% percent of female gamers conceal their gender due to the misogyny and verbal harassment that can be present in gaming platforms. Studies have found that cyberbullying is predominantly found in games involving competition against strangers and that competing against friends can actually help kids form important social skills.
3. Video Games are Challenging
Video games can provide us with incredible opportunities to grow through challenges. Failure and setback is an essential part of learning. In video games players will fail 80% of the time or 12-20 times per hour. This is a significant rate of failure that encourages gamers to adapt and change to overcome the challenge. Failing also means a great opportunity to learn how to recognize and regulate the emotions that come with failure.
4. Video Game Addiction
Whether or not there should be a diagnosis for Video Game Addiction is still being studied. Video games can be either good or bad and there doesn’t seem to be a measure of hours per day that would help anyone understand if their child has a problem with video games. Instead, I encourage parents to have a posture of curiosity with their kids' gaming habits.
Ask yourself questions like “does my child’s time spent playing video games interfere with important activities and goals?”. If your child refuses to participate in family time or other in-person social activities on a regular basis because they would rather play video games or if they are getting bullied or are unable to regulate their emotional responses to failure or frustration, then some kind of intervention is healthy. Expect resistance, keep an open dialogue with your child, and replace the time spent cutting back on gaming with other connecting activities such as sports, community events, or face to face time with friends and family.
Video Games and Connection
You can increase the positive impact of your kids’ gaming hobby by bringing attention to the areas of growth they experience. Asking questions about what they have overcome to get to the next level or reach the next milestone in the game, how they overcame it, and the process of strategizing, can help them really engage the learning process.
Talk to your child about what to do if they observe or experience (or are tempted to engage in) cyber bullying and listen to how they respond to complex social situations. Show interest in what they enjoy and even join your child in playing a game. Determining how much time your child should spend on these virtual activities will vary from child to child and depend on their situation. But most of all, be curious and try to withhold judgment of what we might not understand or value. Having this attitude will make your child feel validated and might help when it comes to setting limits and boundaries.