As you no doubt already know, the World Health Organisation has included “gaming disorder” in its latest draft of The International Classification of Diseases. The new disorder is characterised by lack of control over gaming, prioritising gaming over other interests and daily activities, and to continue gaming despite any negative consequences. For a proper diagnosis, gaming would need to have had a negative impact in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other areas of life, and have been going on for at least a year.
However, gaming can also be a positive experience for many people when done in moderation. My husband did a post recently on the benefits of gaming for wellbeing from his perspective, which is well worth a read. From my work in mental health and wellbeing with children and young people, I know that gaming provides a sense of escapism/distraction for lots of children (and adults) in a way that a book perhaps used to. Gaming can also bring a huge sense of pride and satisfaction, and people can enjoy the feeling of control and mastery they have over the game. Many also play games to relax, to lift their mood, to ‘let go’ and forget about their worries, and in this way, video games can actually help people with their emotional regulation. Finally, people who might not experience a sense of belonging elsewhere can be a part of something online; making friends, sharing, and being part of a social group are all positive experiences of online gaming.
Here are some simple tips to ensure that gaming stays a positive experience for children:
- Get involved. If you can’t beat them, join them! Joining in will help you to bond with your child, giving you something to connect over, and you will no doubt have fun together! You will develop a deeper understanding for the game and this will allow you to chat about it and refer to it in everyday life. It also means that you will better understand the system and ultimately be more informed so you can get a feel for things like intensity, emotions, length of time played, language used etc. This will help you with other simple things like knowing what it is like when you have to turn it off immediately (if you are in the top two on Fortnite this is awful!) to come to the table for dinner and will perhaps enable you to develop more empathy for your child. They might have worked towards that position for the last 20 minutes and if you come along and turn the console off, they will likely be understandably upset by this in the same way they would if you walked in and tore up a painting they had been working on for 20 minutes.
- Respect your child’s interest. Recognise and value that your child’s hobby is playing games and try not to be dismissive or derogatory about it. It might be very different to what you did for entertainment as a child, but things change, so try to be accommodating, kind and respectful about gaming when you can.
- Use gaming as a gateway. There are many educational areas that now link with video gaming. You can use your child’s passion and enthusiasm for gaming to get them interested in things like computer coding, video game design or script writing. I remember going on a family holiday to Italy when I was younger and my little brother was walking around in awe because he recognised half of Florence from playing Assassin’s Creed II! I think it is amazing that a teenage boy took an interest in the architecture in Italy all due to a video game. You can seize the opportunity to make the most of their enthusiasm for a game by turning it into an educational experience.
- Encourage creativity. There are may games that encourage children to be creative that I would recommend. For example, Minecraft, LittleBigPlanet and the Lego games are all child/young person friendly and require building and such.
- Everything in moderation. Making sure that your child takes part in a range of activities is key. Video games can be a part of that, but you might want to put some limits in place to ensure you can fit in lots of other good stuff too. I’m not an expert on the topic and I think there are a lot of factors to consider, but I’d say maybe a couple of hours playing video games a day is more than enough? Make sure there is plenty of time for other important healthy things e.g. reading, learning to play an instrument, doing school work, exercising etc.
Hopefully this post helps you to move forward with gaming positively. Let me know how you get on or if you have any questions!