Trying to parent your child’s gaming behavior can be really difficult. We wanted to share six of our favorite parenting principles for managing their gaming habits. We also talk about some crazy myths some people believe about gaming and children and how we can actually leverage technology to empower our kids and help shape them into the adults we hope they become. Here are six principles to use to help you on your quest with parenting your gamer. It’s not easy. There’s not one simple, cookie-cutter approach to how we’re supposed to govern our children as they engage with video games. What works for one family may not work for another, so it’ll take a little ingenuity and customization on your part. But at least we share a handful of fundamental principles to work from.
Get Over Your Technophobia
Yeah, we’re talking to you, parents.
Can video games be a problem? Absolutely.
But there is a growing trend amongst parents that any new technology is going to rot our children’s brains. Gaming gets lumped into this all too often. It’s simply not true. This myth has been evolving each decade with new technology and new innovations in the gaming world. The media feeds this hysteria and phobia and despite it being debunked time and time again, some parents still believe it. While we don’t mean to poke fun at people who legitimately have technophobia, there is a pervading misconception about video games.
No, video games do not cause violence. There are millions and millions of people who log millions and millions of hours every DAY on video games and about 99.99% of them don’t commit a single violent act in their entire lifetime. It’s a myth. There’s zero correlation on a macro-societal level that video games do all this harm they’re purported to have.
“Video games aren’t rotting our children’s brains.” It’s not turning them into “unproductive citizens” or any of that hogwash. There are dangers to over-playing and spending way too much time or getting way too emotionally involved in video games, but for the most part, there is a lot of good that can come from them.
One of the pet peeves we hear all too often is “Don’t use video games as a reward.” And that drives us nuts because we use video games as a reward for a long day at work. Heck…your spouse says “If you get the lawn mowed and edged you can play Madden an hour.” Guess what? It works. The yard looks great and I get some gaming in. We want to be careful of how much of a reward it is and if it is the ONLY reward we use for good behavior. But telling your kid they can have an hour of gaming if they do the dishes or read a book for an hour in return is hardly a reason to signal the alarms of some psychological problem. Avoiding using video games as a reward is just a buzz-worthy and trendy parenting myth right now. Don’t fall for it. We’d also argue that it’s okay to let your kids have video gaming time just to have the time. In other words, if they always have to do something to unlock video game time, what message are you sending your kid? Just being able to play for 20-30 minutes a day without having it be a reward is perfectly fine.
Enable and Implement Parental Controls
This is a no-brainer, yet it would shock you how many parents don’t enable parental controls. Some games (like Fortnite), have parental controls built into the software, but many times the parental controls will be set at the platform/device level. If you’re not enabling parental controls with your kid’s gaming behavior, you need to. Aside from protecting them from outside dangers (which do exist), parental controls allow you to set limits on things like ratings (more on that below), time limit enforcement, and things like in-app purchases. Most games and gaming platforms and devices have some kind of parental control. We talked earlier about the Oculus Quest VR headset and its lack of parental controls, but for the most part parental controls are going to be there. You just have to find them and go the extra mile to understand them and enable them. Guess what? Sometimes it’s not an easy “set it and forget it” parental control. Sometimes you have to monitor what’s going on here and there. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Cliche? Yes, but it’s true, especially with gaming. If they don’t have them, then you need to look at other solutions like what features your router offers or a device like Firewalla. Granted these don’t have controls like “Don’t allow gore or swearing”, but they can help you control the time aspect of gaming.
Awareness Is Important
Not just for you as a parent to be aware of what your children are doing on video games, but also for teaching them to be aware. Teaching your youngsters to practice a little meta-cognition as it relates to gaming is vital. A couple of questions to have them review each time are: How long am I playing (How long did I play)? How does gaming affect my mood/behavior? These are two really easy questions to memorize and easy to answer. And it will surprise you (especially if you engage in these questions with them) what conclusions your kids will come to.
For example, we had our teen stop playing Fortnite because he said he was always angry and upset after each session or would respond negatively when we told him to stop playing. Does this mean Fortnite is a horrible game and teens shouldn’t be playing it? Not at all. But for one teen, it wasn’t working out for him. By letting him come to this conclusion, it put him in charge of his own emotions and behavior and a valuable skill was learned which we believe and are hopeful will turn out to be a life-long awareness.
Teaching our children to be aware and fully present with how they’re spending their time (and not just with gaming, but really with anything) on a specific task is generally a good skill to build. Once again, technology isn’t bad and if we’re smart we can leverage a lot of good out from it. A little hack we did that helped raise the level of awareness of how long our kid was playing video games was a simple Cube Timer we got from Amazon. We call it our “Gamer Cube”.
This really helped our kids become aware of how long they were playing and engaging with technology. Whenever we are doing something we really enjoy, time flies by so quickly. Gaming is no different. There’s actually brain science behind this concept and this little gamer cube taught our kids how 30 minutes playing video games feels a lot different than 30 minutes not playing video games. At first, their reaction will be “There’s no way that was 30 minutes!” They’ll most likely become mad at the timer and even accuse you of buying one with shorter times to finagle them out of more playing time. It’s quite funny. But after a while, they become aware of how important 30 or even 60 minutes of video game time means to them. Don’t be surprised if they begin to value their time a little more. Again, we can leverage gaming to teach our kids a valuable lesson in time management.
Engage In Conversations With Your Kids About Their Gaming Experience
This one is so easy, but so many parents don’t do it. Personally, we think most parents don’t know how to talk to them about gaming. It’s rather simple.
Some of the best questions to ask are:
- What game did you play?
- Did you play it with any of your friends/buddies?
- I noticed you play that game a lot, why do you like that game?
- Is there something about it you love?
- Are there any new games up and coming that you’re interested in?
The goal is to get them talking about their experience with gaming. It’s also a great way to connect with your kids. It shows them you care as a parent. If they don’t want to engage at first and have a conversation, that’s normal. It’ll take time to build that environment and culture of talking. But once you do get into a rhythm, you’ll pick up on things both positive and negative and be able to respond appropriately. There are some potentially crazy and dangerous things that can happen in the world of gaming and technology. Just a little bit of dialogue and conversations could help prevent and solve a lot of the craziness.
Collaborate On A Screen Time Plan
The keyword here is “collaborate”. When you come up with a screen time plan with gaming together, collaboratively with your child, they are more likely to buy into it. It’s going to be more effective as well. Detail out what kinds of games are acceptable based on their age. Agree on how many hours a week is healthy. Talk about the ratings and what’s appropriate. Be open and honest about your concerns. Ask them about their concerns. The key is you don’t want to make yourself the enemy. When you collaborate with your child, they are more likely to buy into the plan.
Parenting Your Gamer: Know The Gaming Ratings
Again…this is such an easy thing to take advantage of. You might have to spend a little bit of time to understand these ratings, but they’re rather straightforward. For the most part, these ratings are solid in their appropriateness for each age and every game should have a rating accompanied with it. There are 5 main ESRB ratings you need to be aware of. They are as followed:
Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy, or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
E 10+ (Everyone 10+)
Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language, and/or minimal suggestive themes.
Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.
M (Mature 17+)
Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language.
Adults Only 18+
Content suitable only for adults ages 18 and up. May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content, and/or gambling with real currency.
Furthermore, there are what they call “Pending Ratings” you should also be aware of if you’re going to let your family do some gaming:
RP (Rating Pending)
Not yet assigned a final ESRB rating. Appears only in advertising, marketing, and promotional materials related to a physical (e.g., boxed) video game that is expected to carry an ESRB rating, and should be replaced by a game’s rating once it has been assigned.
RP 17+ (Rating Pending Likely Mature 17+)
Not yet assigned a final ESRB rating but anticipated to be rated Mature 17+. Appears only in advertising, marketing, and promotional materials related to a physical (e.g., boxed) video game that is expected to carry an ESRB rating, and should be replaced by a game’s rating once it has been assigned. You can find more information on ratings from the Entertainment Software Rating Board here. If you have a gamer in the family, we HIGHLY suggest you spend some time reviewing the content here and even having discussions with your family about ratings and the kinds of acceptable content that are permitted in your home. The ESRB page on video game ratings details the ratings summaries, content descriptors, and the kinds of interactive elements (online features) that you should be aware of.