Many parents have concerns about video gaming and their children spending too much time in front of a screen. We discuss the difference between healthy and unhealthy gaming and how to support your child to get the best out of their gaming experience.
Yes, it can feel scary: the thought of your child glued to a screen, fighting virtual monsters and other players, and probably not spending nearly enough time outside. Although gaming may sometimes involve all of that, it doesn’t have to. Not everyone who plays video games has an addiction, and research shows that it can have a positive effect on mental health and increase social skills.
First things first: What is gaming?
Gaming refers to playing electronic games, whether through consoles, computers or another medium. It can be solitary or done in a group (in-person or virtual). Gaming has become increasingly popular as a hobby among people of all ages (did you know that the average gamer is 34 years old?). Indeed, the gaming industry has become one of the most important, innovative and profitable entertainment sectors today, outperforming both movies and sports combined last year. But gaming doesn’t involve just playing! It has become popular as a profession too and is full of career opportunities. Today, professional gamers travel to compete around the world for major prizes and can bring in significant earnings too.
The benefits of video games
As a parent, you might have wondered: what can be positive about dedicating so much energy to something that isn’t even real? Well, playing video games is not just about shooting and racing; it can also promote important life skills, like strategic planning, patience, networking, cooperation, performing under pressure and leadership.
Another positive of video games is that it helps increase spatial abilities. A 2013 meta-analysis found that shooter video games improved the player’s ability to think about objects in three dimensions just as well as academic courses aimed at developing the same skills. And, because gaming often offers a “deep learning experience”, it may also improve problem-solving skills, strategy development and attention allocation. Some types of games may also stimulate creativity and brain flexibility, while certain games have been developed specifically to help players focus better and manage anxiety.
Healthy vs. unhealthy gaming
Gaming can, however, have negative effects and that’s when it’s important to draw the line. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) included gaming disorder as a behavioural addiction in its International Classification of Diseases – specifically when there is a “pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities, […] and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences”.
Contrary to what we tend to believe, unhealthy gaming doesn’t necessarily refer to the amount of time your teen spends in front of the screen, but to the reasons why your child turns to video games. When gaming is used to avoid coping with difficult emotions, it can become unhealthy.
Other signs that may help you identify unhealthy gaming in your teen include poor personal hygiene, decrease in school performance, social withdrawal and aggressive behaviour, as well as sleep disturbances, reduced motivation, emotional suppression and repetitive stress injuries.
Tips for healthy gaming
What can you do as a parent to encourage a healthy approach to playing video games?
- Communicate: try to find out what your teen’s experience is, rather than making assumptions that gaming is ‘bad’ (and see these great tips on communicating with your teen).
- Make sure your child is getting enough fresh air and physical activity: they shouldn’t replace exercise and sport with gaming.
- Set limits: create a family media plan to manage the amount of time your child spends playing and set screen-free zones.
- Game together! It will bring you closer and help you understand the world of gaming better.
- Seek professional help: if you feel that you’re struggling to understand or support your teen, or if your teen needs help, you can always get in touch with one of our counselors.
The main question to ask yourself is: are video games adding value to your teen’s life? By understanding your teen’s gaming behaviour and setting clear boundaries where necessary, you can support him/her to have a healthy gaming experience. Supporting your child through this journey can also bring you closer. Perhaps one day you’ll look back and smile as you remember that little person who once looked at you and said: “When I grow up, I want to be a gamer!”
With thanks to Mora Neustadt for her contribution to this article.
What other tips would you recommend to support teens? Share them in the comments.
First published here.