Cincinnati Family Magazine

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May 23, 2024

Loving siblings playing video game in the living room

Parenting Your Video Game Fanatic

Some kids play whatever they can get their hands on! But if it's to the exclusion of other activities, it's time to step in.

YOU: “It’s time for karate class,” I say to my 13-year-old son as he stares at the screen, his hands holding a controller.

HIM: “Do I have to go?” (he does not look up).

YOU: (Deep breath). “Yes.” 

HIM: “Ugh … do I have to??? (He still doesn’t look up).

This has been a common exchange between us for a variety of activities over the past 10 years. He has tried everything from baseball to cooking class. Nothing holds his interest as much as video games.

Every now and then I wonder if it is worth investing money and time into classes or sports he doesn’t want to participate in. But if I hold off on signing him up for things, he does nothing except play video games until we try something new again. It’s a never-ending cycle.

ARE VIDEO GAMES HEALTHY?

My son is not an anomaly. According to the National Library of Medicine, in 2023, more than 90 percent of children older than 2 years play video games. Three-quarters of American households own a video game console. Children ages 8 – 17 spend an average of one-and-a-half to two hours daily playing video games.   

There is a lot of conflicting information about video game use, so it can be hard for parents to know what to allow. It’s screen time, of course, but video gaming is often also a social activity played together with friends either in the same room or online. And if it’s a popular with a kid’s peer group, some parents let them play for an unlimited amount of time with their friends.

Playing video games can have positive benefits, says Dr. Larry D. Rosen, author of The Distracted Mind (2016)

“Gaming can offer some skill-building, including reaction time, executive functioning and strategic thinking,” he says. He cautions, though, that “playing video games can be very addictive and create problematic thinking, including desensitization to violence.”

Some kids don’t want to do anything else besides play video games.

VIDEO GAME OBSESSION?

Rosen recommends that video game play should be limited, since research shows physiological arousal increases when playing — and kids need breaks from that. He suggests limiting gaming for teens to 60 – 90 minutes at a time, even if parents decide to allow more total time daily. Limit it more for younger children.

Maria Sanders, a licensed social worker and certified parent coach, recommends creating clear boundaries with your kids regarding when and how long they are allowed to play. She says an example of boundaries might be letting your child choose to play an hour of video games either before or after completing homework. She encourages parents to learn more about their child’s interest in video games. Sit down and play the games with them.
 

“The child will see that you have an interest in what they are doing,” Sanders says, “and you will learn about why they are so attracted to the game,” she adds.

LIFE IS ABOUT A LOT MORE

Kids should live “balanced lives and not live solely in the video game,” says Sanders.
 But if your young gamer doesn’t express interest in anything else, it may be difficult to figure out which activity or sport to encourage. Sanders suggests learning about the type of video games your child likes to play so you can figure out an activity that uses similar skills or gameplay. An avid Fortnite player, for example, might enjoy a laser tag league.

Avoid simply announcing which activities your child must do. Rosen stresses the importance of including kids in the decision-making process. With your child’s input, create a list of the types of activities they could do at home during unstructured times or when they feel bored. Similarly, involving your child in discussions about organized extracurriculars will prevent them from feeling forced into participating in certain activities.

STAY POSITIVE ABOUT VIDEO GAMES

You may or may not be aware of comments you can make like, “video games are a waste of time” or “video games are unhealthy” in an effort to decrease video game use by your kids. Rosen cautions that this almost always backfires. Instead, you can reward your kids for responsible behaviors. For example, when your child demonstrates that they can stop playing on their own without your badgering them to do so, you might loosen strict time limits on screen time.

Instead of making negative statements about video games, Sanders says, “The best thing a parent can do is guide their child down a path of self-reflection. Asking questions like, ‘I notice you seem pretty tired after playing video games. How are you feeling?’ will help your child figure out their own beliefs about video game use.”

Parent negativity can make a kid feel as if they are being judged and misunderstood. Focus on their strengths while playing a video game — perhaps, for instance, their ability to help a friend get to another level. You can notice that ability and point out how it might connect to real-life situations. Next step: Help them get out there and do just that.

TOO MANY VIDEO GAMES: WHEN TO WORRY

Video game addiction is not yet a disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. In 2018, The World Health Organization (WHO), recognized the existence of “gaming disorder” for the first time. The WHO describes an addicted person as “someone with an inability to stop playing even though it interferes with other areas of one’s life, such as family relationships, school, work, and sleep. And, these problems would typically continue for at least one year.” Many experts have said that if it becomes too hard to stop gaming — if it’s affecting other parts of your life — that’s when it might become a problem.

Excessive video game play and other types of addictions do show similar patterns, says Rosen.

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