It will come as no surprise to parents everywhere that time spent gaming has increased among children. It was already on the rise before the global pandemic struck, sending parents to work from home and children home to be cared for by working parents. The continued rise of online gaming was inevitable. Statistics show that binge gaming has risen by 13%. Some kids are sitting to play for up to six hours at a time.
Parents may be grateful for online gaming, which can give them a break to manage work and home tasks, even as they are concerned about prolonged gaming’s influence. Online gaming can also provide kids with the to hang out with friends and make connections with others their own age.
It’s not all bad… is it?
Why Kids Love Gaming
If a single selling point to online gaming exists, it is that your kids love it. Every parent wants their kids to do things that they enjoy. With depression and suicide at all-time highs, it’s important for children to find joys in life that keep them going.
But why do kids love gaming so much? Three basic needs are met when kids play games online with friends and other kids their ages.
CompanionshipSocial time is critical for mental well-being and emotional growth. Online gaming offers kids a way to connect, to argue, to cooperate, and to work things out. They can laugh at shared experiences and learn to communicate effectively. All of these experiences effectively save them from feeling socially isolated and alone. Hanging out with their parents is just not the same as spending time, even online, with friends.
Online gaming also allows kids to test their limits, the limits of their knowledge and their abilities, which also pushes them to learn more and do more. Healthy competition inspires kids to do their best, to fail, to get back up, and to do better again, rather than simply doing just well enough to get by. It also helps that they have friends online either encouraging them to push through or egging them on and taunting them, usually both, calling them to draw on their inner strength and rally.
The result of both the companionship and the competition is growing competence. Practice does make perfect after all. And when kids get the chance to return to challenges over and over, they build competence and its natural byproduct, hard earned self-confidence and self-esteem.
Not the Same as Real Life
None of this is to say that gaming can take the place of interacting and challenging yourself in real life. It does not even come close. The challenges presented, and the rewards for overcoming those problems, in person in every day encounters dramatically outweigh the parallels in the gaming world.
Benefits of Online Gaming for Kids
The bottom line is kids love video games, so it helps to know that benefits do exist. It’s not all danger and addiction. As I mentioned, some of the reasons kids enjoy playing are also beneficial to them, but there are plenty more benefits of online gaming.
- Problem solving
Figuring out how to get to the next level, how to avoid that attacker, how to build that structure or world, all require constant growth of problem-solving skills.
- Interest in History and Culture
Many games are set in far-off locations with characters from far-off lands. Some are set in different periods of history. Much like Percy Jackson sparked an interest in kids in Greek and Roman mythology, video games can get kids excited about history and culture.
When games are played in teams, your kids will often get the chance to lead, which gives them a sense of importance and responsibility, encouraging them to take on leadership roles in real life.
This one pretty much goes without saying, right? Video games help kids imagine impossible odds, unrealistic scenarios, and crazy realities, which sparks their creative impulses and allows them to push the limits of their own realities, imagining what they can make possible in real life.
- Teaching Skills
Older kids love teaching younger kids how to do things the older kids have mastered. Teaching a younger sibling or even a friend to play their favorite game fosters the young teacher within.
- Time Together
Finally, if you join your kids in their love of games, you have a new shared experience and an opportunity for parent-child bonding.
Gaming: The Dark Side
As with anything, there can be too much of a good thing. It’s important to remember that the danger of child-appropriate games like Fortnite is not in the game or the gaming but in too much gaming. The primary negative effect of online gaming comes from spending an extended period of time in front of the screen to the detriment of other healthy activities like in-person connections and time spent outside moving around in nature.
The Need for Limits
Just like you would with candy or cookies, television time or anything else best in moderation, your goal as a parent of a child who loves video games is to set healthy limits.
We have found the best approach is to establish the limits well in advance and firmly and consistently reinforce them. It can feel impossible when you have Zoom meetings and work deadlines to meet, but you are better off holding that line firmly rather than engaging in the major fight that is inevitable if you allow those limits to be stretched.
Include Your Child
To that end, make sure you engage your child in the discussion of their gaming life. It doesn’t have to be a matter of you versus your child. It need not be a hierarchical decision handed down from on high to your child from their superior. You can have an ongoing dialogue, where you both understand where the other one is coming from, and then you agree to terms that make sense to both. This way, it comes as no surprise to either of you when the time is up or when a fight ensues.
It also helps to allow for flexibility as your child gets older or the schedule changes. On busier days there may be less gaming, but on weeks off or even summers off, you may allow for more.
As part of a larger discussion, be sure to remind both yourself and your child that gaming could result in a scholarship or even a career. You may have a master gamer on your hands, or your child may end up developing video games as an entrepreneur in this growing industry.
Parents and Gaming: Get Involved
Finally, give it a try! You don’t have to let gaming be something that comes between you and your child. Get in and get involved in the world of gaming, ask to be let into their world, and soon you may find they let you into a lot more.