When Video Game Use Crosses the Line
This is the third and final post in Jobbing Teacher’s short exploration on the world of gaming and out children. As a parent of a child who plays video games, computer games, or games on handheld devices like cell phones, it’s important to take a look at our child’s overall functioning at home, at school, in their social circle and their mental or psychological functioning if we are to be able to confidently say that” there isn’t a problem brewing with all this gaming”
First, let’s take a moment to review some of the positives discussed in my previous post about video games: Some games are educational, some promote physical activity, and when played with others games can help children develop the skills of sharing and cooperation. Video games can also foster resilience and they can even help to strengthen children’s problem-solving skills and patience in challenging situations. Everyone ok with our investigation at this point?
So, what can you do to limit your child’s video game playing and create healthy boundaries around it? For some of you, this will be more challenging than for others. Some children are much more deeply involved with video games and setting limits in these cases will be harder.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Determine if you need more support.
If your child becomes destructive, aggressive, threatening or violent when you try to enforce or set limits on their gaming, it might be helpful for you to talk to someone in your area who can work directly with you and your child as you make changes. This might mean talking to your child’s GP to determine what kinds of changes are appropriate, how to respond to negative behaviour, and how to effectively enforce your limits with your child.
Start off slowly.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting video games to one hour per day and while it can be tempting to dramatically cut back your child’s access to games, or want to remove them from your home altogether, it might be more helpful to start off slowly.
Let your child know you are starting to question whether video games have a place in your home because they seem to cause a lot of problems. Offer a couple specific examples, such as “When I tell you it’s time to turn them off, you use abusive language. And, your grades have gone from B’s and C’s to D’s and F’s since you started playing _______.”
Let your child know that instead of getting rid of the games right now, you’re going to try a new rule first—and that their ability to follow that rule or not will help you determine if the games stay.
Let your child know what guidelines you are going to be using to determine if video games are working out or not. Behavioural Therapist James Lehman talks about four questions you can use to assess a new limit in your home:
- What will we see if this is working?
- What will we do if this is working?
- What will we see if this is not working?
- What will we do if this is not working?
You’ll want to actually go over these questions and answers with your child. For example, you might say, “From now on the video games need to be turned off by 8 pm. If this is working, I’ll see you turning them off by 8 without being abusive, and your grades might even get better in school. If this happens, we’ll keep it going. If this doesn’t work, I’ll see you putting up a fight at 8 pm and continuing to play later than that. If that happens, you’ll lose your game privileges for the next day.”
Work together with your child to find a new technique he can use to try to shut down the video games in a much more timely fashion. For example, maybe you discuss the idea of your child avoiding certain more engaging games at certain times, or set up a reward system for turning the game off when a timer goes off.
Also consider how your child can cope with the unpleasant feelings caused by stopping the game, or discuss what other fun activities he can do if he’s bored. Talk these things over with your child to help him be successful.
Let’s face it: the user menus on these games are often not very easy to use. But, most of these companies have websites with instructions for setting up parental controls.
And get ready for this, parents: Did you know that Xbox is equipped with a family timer? You can program the console to shut itself off after the allotted gaming time has been used up for the day!
Here are some links to some websites for more information about parental controls. Apple products are a huge challenge for parents as well, so they are in the list below.
If you find the instructions on the web hard to understand, call the company’s customer support phone number for more assistance. If you’re dealing with an Apple product, stop in to your local Apple store for support.
- Nintendo Game Systems: Wii, Nintendo DS
- X-Box 360
- Playstation Game Systems: Playstation, Vita
- Apple Products: iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch
Don’t let your child become antisocial
We’ve already talked a lot about setting up some clear structure for your children—limiting their time on games or having a clear off-time, with some logical consequences or rewards. Some parents also find it helpful to establish regular “Family Time” during which you do something as a family and there are short-term consequences for not participating. You could also require your child to participate in some sort of group activity once per week, such as a sport, club, or youth group. The key here is to let your child choose the activity. Until they choose an activity, you might restrict their game use on the weekends to encourage time with friends. Once they choose and begin an activity, let them know they don’t get any access to video games at all that day if they don’t attend a scheduled practice or meeting.
Perhaps the trickiest thing of all is that there is no cookie-cutter formula to determine how much video game time is too much, or what limits and consequences are appropriate for your child. Every child is different. Some children are able to shift into a different activity more easily, while others are more vulnerable targets for the highly rewarding design of the games. In the end you just have to go with what feels right for your family.
Tips on Managing Teen Media Consumption
Because of the popularity of video games, completely eliminating them from your child’s life might be difficult. However, you can decrease the negative impact that they have on your child. Here are a few tips:
- Know the rating of the video games your child plays (see below).
- Do not install video game equipment in your child’s bedroom.
- Set limits on how often and how long your child is allowed to play video games.
- Monitor all of your child’s media consumption – video games, television, movies, and the Internet.
- Supervise your child’s Internet use – there are now many “video games” available for playing online.
- Take the time to discuss with your children the games they are playing or other media they are watching. Ask your children how they feel about what they observe in these video games, television programs or movies. This is an opportunity to share your feelings and grow closer with your child.
- Share with other parents information about certain games or ideas for helping each other in parenting.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board
The ESRB is a self-regulatory body established in 1994 by the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA). The major video game manufacturers created this board after concerned groups applied pressure over the content of video games.
Similar to the movie industry’s rating system, all major game companies now submit their new products for rating to specially trained raters at the ESRB. The ESRB rates over 1,000 games per year.
The ESRB looks at a number of factors when rating games. In particular, it considers the amount of violence, sex, controversial language, and substance abuse found in a game. Based on its developed guidelines, the ESRB then gives an age recommendation and content descriptor to each game submitted.
The following are the rating symbols currently in use, according to the ESRB Web site.
- Early Childhood (EC)
Content should be suitable for children 3 years and older and contain no objectionable material.
- Everyone (E)
Content suitable for persons ages 6 and older. The game may contain minimal violence and some “comic mischief.”
- Teen (T)
Content suitable for persons ages 13 and older. Content is more violent than (E) rating and contains mild or strong language, and/or suggestive themes.
- Mature (M)
Content suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Content definitely has more mature sexual themes, intense violence and stronger language.
- Adults Only (AO)
Content suitable only for adults and may contain graphic sex and/or violence. Adult Only products are not intended for persons under the age of 18.
- Rating Pending (RP)
Game has been submitted to the ESRB and is awaiting a final rating.
The ESRB Web site has more details about this rating system, as well as the “content descriptors” that are used in conjunction with the ratings on game packaging. The site is also useful for parents who want to search for the rating of a particular game.
As Jobbing Teacher has maintained before, it is a crazy digital world that our children are growing up in; very different to our world. It is important to keep an eye on what digital media your children are accessing. It doesn’t matter if you do not know as much as they do about how to work a piece of media – the important thing is that you understand what it might be teaching your child and whether you want them to be learning this at this particular stage in their life
What do you think?