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Worried about your kids gaming? Pick up a controller

According to the Children’s Commissioner, 93% of children in the UK play video games. For adults who didn’t grow up with a PlayStation or Xbox, it might feel like your children are completely obsessed with a form of media which can be violent, sexualised and addictive. However, gaming is a lot more than sensationalist headlines, and it might be time to pick up a controller. 

Is gaming bad for kids?

New technology often divides generations, and nowhere is that more evident than between children and their parents. Once, it was a television that parents were concerned by; now it is gaming that adults are anxious about. 

The World Health Organisation classified Gaming Disorder as an addictive behaviour in 2018, where the pattern of gaming is, ‘impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming....and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.’ For a diagnosis, gaming must result in a, ‘significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning’.  

Whilst knowing that gaming is considered addictive might be cause for concern, in a recent study from the University of Oxford, researchers state that ‘video game play is positively correlated with well-being’. Researchers observed 3,000 adults playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville, and published the following results, ‘Contrary to many fears that excessive play time will lead to addiction and poor mental health, we found a small positive relation between game play and affective well-being.’ 

It should be noted that this single study focused on two games which are not considered violent, and both are suitable for players under the age of 18. There are many aspects of gaming which can cause concern for parents; such as monetisation, cyber-bullying and inappropriate content. However, this research does suggest that the moral panic around gaming in general may be misguided. 

Starting a conversation about gaming

If gaming has never been a part of your childhood or adulthood, you might find it hard to see any enjoyment or interest in gaming. This can make it difficult to have a conversation about it with your kids. When starting a conversation about gaming, it might be helpful to think of a hobby or interest that you have that your children, or a partner doesn’t share. Try to ask your kids about gaming with the same curiosity and lack of judgement that you’d want in return. 

According to the Children’s Commissioner, ‘Children consider the shared experience of gaming to be just as important to their friendships, as other non-digital experiences. For some children, online gaming provides a social network through which they can also just talk to their friends, regardless of whether or not they were actually playing.’

In this sense, it’s sometimes helpful to compare the experience of gaming to another hobby, like reading. There’s very little moral panic around reading, despite the fact that it is a hobby often done alone, with no exercise or social aspect to it. Gaming, on the other hand, is likely to involve the same kind of focus, but the focus is on a screen rather than a page.

Another useful way to look at your child’s relationship with games is to ask about what they enjoy about gaming, or a certain game. This can open a conversation about gaming with your child, and help you start to understand your child’s worldview. Starting from a position of curiosity rather than judgement will encourage your child to open up, rather than become defensive.

Ready, player two?

So you’ve started a conversation about gaming; now it’s time to get involved. One of the best ways to alleviate worry about something is to try it, and gaming is no different. If you’re feeling a bit under confident, ask if you can watch your child play. 

Actually sitting down and seeing what your child is doing when they’re gaming can help to identify any real causes for concern, and also challenge your own beliefs around gaming. You could also do a bit of research on the game to help you figure out if it's age appropriate, and help you understand the world that they’re inhabiting. 

If you can take an interest in what your child is doing, and approach their gaming in a positive way, gaming can be a great way to connect. Practicing empathy and understanding with your child around gaming not only models healthy behaviour, but also makes it easier for you to talk about the parts of gaming you’re concerned by. Try picking up a controller; you can spend quality time with your children, and you might have fun in the process. 

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