Let’s be honest – many of us parents aren’t big fans of gaming. In fact, some of us have probably even been known to roll our eyes or groan when we think about just how long our kids spend playing online games. But if there is one thing I’ve learned after 25 years of parenting, it’s that taking the time to look at a stressful family situation from the perspective of my children, can be very powerful. In fact, it can almost always fast track finding a mutually agreeable work-around for everyone – and gaming is the perfect example.
Why Do Our Kids Love Gaming?
We have all read about how online gaming can provide players with regular hits of dopamine – a neurotransmitter in the brain that becomes active when you participate in fun and pleasurable activities. Now I am not disputing this for a moment – I’ve witnessed it firsthand! However, it is important to remember that dopamine increases whenever we do anything enjoyable – pop a square of chocolate in our mouth or watch our favorite sporting team win – not just when we play online games.
Many online games have cleverly designed built-in reward systems, and many experts believe that it is the combination of dopamine and reward that probably best explains why our kids are such gaming fans. Now, these reward systems are intentionally unpredictable so players are aware they will eventually get a reward, but they have no idea as to when or how often it is coming – so they are compelled to keep playing! Very clever!
In my opinion, gaming also fills several other needs in our children – the need to belong, to feel competent and be independent. And while we may have had these needs addressed very differently in the 70’s and 80’s – hanging at the bus stop, mastering the Rubix cube and not being helicopter parented, our batch of digital natives will often use gaming as their go-to solution.
Why You Should See Gaming Through The Eyes of Your Child
When many of us parents think about our kids’ online gaming, our initial thought is ‘how do we make our kids stop’. But I can you this isn’t the right approach. Online gaming isn’t going anywhere. So, taking the time to see gaming from your child’s perspective and understand why it is such a big part of their life is where you need to focus your energy. I guarantee this will further strengthen your relationship with your child and help you introduce rules that they will better respect.
Let’s take a moment to channel the great Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird and focus on his words of inspiration for us all: ‘“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Ah yes – very wise words!
My Top Tips For A Happy Gaming Family
So, if you are keen to stop gaming being a negative issue in your family, here are my top tips to help you get it under control and stop it causing family tension:
1. Change Your Thinking
If you find yourself thinking ‘how do I get my kids to stop gaming’, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Gaming isn’t going anywhere and as parents, we don’t want to drive an unnecessary wedge between ourselves and our kids. Instead, commit to having an open mind. Think ’Ok, let’s give this gaming thing a go’.
2. Talk To Your Kids About Their Gaming – With No Tone
When the time is right, ask your kids what their favourite games are and why. Your aim is to get them talking. You could even do your research in advance and drop in the names of a few popular games to ask them about. ‘My work friend’s son plays Roblox, do you know much about that?’
3. Play Along!
Even if you aren’t that interested, I promise, playing along will open your eyes. You’ll better understand how the game’s reward system works and what it feels like to get a shot of digital dopamine! And most importantly, it will be great for your relationship with your child. By taking the time to play with them, you are showing that you are interested in their life and their hobbies.
4. Educate Yourself About All Thing Gaming
When your kids started their social media journey, chances are you spent a little time familiarising yourself with the various platforms they joined. Well, you need to adopt the same approach with their gaming life too. Here are a few areas to focus on:
- Check out Discord – an online community where a lot of gamers spend time sharing tips and ‘cheats’. Check out an article I wrote about Discord here.
- Suss out Twitch – it’s a live streaming video gaming site where loads of kids spend loads of time watching others game. Yes, this is a thing!
- Big time gamers are now considered ‘influencers’. It’s not uncommon for tweens and teens to watch then play on Twitch, subscribe to their YouTube channel, and then follow them on Instagram. They can have a lot of sway!
- Do your research on the games your kids play. Having an open mind about gaming doesn’t mean it’s OK for them to play games that are not age-appropriate.
5. Introduce Fair, Age-Appropriate Rules Around Gaming
Once you’ve taken the time to understand your child’s gaming life, cleared your mind of any unnecessary negative gaming thoughts and done your research, why not put together a set of family rules for gaming? You may like to consider a family tech agreement and have a separate section for gaming. Or you may prefer to keep it more casual and have the rules written on the fridge or shared in the family group chat. Regardless of what you choose, ensure that you introduce these boundaries when everyone is calm and in a good head space NOT when you’re in the middle of a verbal stoush!
You could choose to give your children a set amount of time they can use each week on gaming and then let them choose when to use it or you allocate a small time everyday once they’ve completed homework and chores. When my boys were younger, I didn’t allow gaming Monday – Thursday but after school Friday was always quite the gaming fest – a reward for getting through the school week. Do what works for your family!
There’s no question that this digital parenting gig is complicated. Trying to help your kids find the right balance between embracing the online world and offline world can often feel hard to get right. But if you’re ever in doubt about whether you’re on track when it comes to managing your kids’ gaming, always ask yourself – have I kept an open mind? Have I taken the time to talk to my kids and understand their gaming life? Are the gaming rules fair? And, if you have answered yes, then I have every confidence that you have the right approach to ensuring gaming is a positive part of your family’s life.