Authored by Phil Muncaster, guest writer at ESET
Across Europe, half of the population aged 6-64 plays video games, according to industry body ISFE. The number rises significantly for 6-10-year-olds (68%), and those aged 11-14 (79%) and 15-24 (72%). According to some research, teenagers may spend as many as three hours per day gaming. That’s not necessarily a problem, as long as they still have time to spend on other activities.
But for some, what started as a healthy interest – perhaps during the latest holiday season – can eventually tip into an obsession, even addiction. Concerned parents need to know what the warning signs are, and what they can do to address problems before they spiral out of control.
Top signs your kids may be gaming too much
Parents who didn’t grow up with digital technologies and on-demand gaming are sometimes prone to overreact about their children spending time glued to a screen. But there are legitimate concerns: about the people their kids might be talking to online; the impact on their sleep, mood and behaviour; and even their physical health.
So how can you tell if your child may be addicted to gaming?
They may start to get immersed in the digital world to the point where they stop paying attention to things happening in real life. That might include:
- Not paying attention to personal hygiene or eating
- Avoiding face-to-face contact with their friends
- They appear irritable and restless when not playing their favourite games
- They appear to be excessively tired, or get headaches or hand/eye pain from playing for long periods
- They refuse to go to school, in order to play more
- They have trouble getting to sleep
- They lie about how much time they spend playing
- Any attempt to restrict their screen time leads to major confrontation/outbursts of anger
The challenge for parents is that if your kids are experiencing any of these symptoms it may not be because they have a gaming addiction. Conversely, many gaming addicts don’t display all of these symptoms. The best way forward is to talk about your concerns with them, and if that fails, share these concerns with your child’s teachers.
How can you cut down your children’s gaming time?
If you’re concerned about the amount of time your child spends gaming each week, consider the following steps as a good place to start:
- Communicate: Whatever happens, keep talking. Your kids need guidance, but they also need an open, non-judgmental arena in which to share their own concerns and feelings. Ditch the blame game and try to understand each other more.
- Build trust: Part of this communication process is about establishing confidence and trust in each other. Simply telling your kids what to do will only force negative behaviour underground. Be as open and empathetic as possible about the experiences your kids are going through as they grow up.
- Work out limits together: Just as you should try to avoid dictating orders to your children, also resist the urge to confiscate their devices or consoles. Instead, sit down together to work out a plan for reducing screen time, perhaps by uninstalling gaming apps on specific devices. This may have to be done in stages. Work out a daily time limit for gaming, perhaps, or a cut-off time for use of the home Wi-Fi. Doing this together means you stand a greater chance of success.
- Plan digital breaks: In a similar way to the above, consider sitting down with your kids to plan short breaks away from their devices/consoles. It could be a trip away for a few hours, or even a weekend. Try and do something engaging that you’ll both enjoy, and keep the encouragement/motivation levels as high as possible.
- Consider a parental control app: Specialised software can block access to specific gaming apps and/or restrict their usage by time limits. If you’re concerned that your children aren’t keeping their side of the bargain, it might be a useful way to minimise harm. However, always explain why you’re using such tools.
- Safety first: Aside from concerns around over-use of gaming sites, many parents are also worried about who their kids are interacting with online and the type of content they’re exposed to. Parental control apps can manage the second concern. But parents should also be prepared to sit down with their kids to ensure they know about the possible dangers facing them in the digital world. As digital natives, it’s easy to believe that children more internet savvy than in fact they are. Make sure they understand the risks of oversharing personal information, and of online predators. They should be able to tell you anything without judgement.
Parents can sometimes forget how stressful it was growing up. In that context, gaming can be a wonderful respite from all the drama and emotion, whilst also helping kids to develop some under-rated skills such as hand-eye coordination and problem solving. But it’s also important to keep them safe and healthy – by stepping in as soon as possible if things begin to get out of hand.