I will not try to pass myself off as an avid gamer. Although I would be lying if I said I had never killed a creeper or visited the Nether in Minecraft, or that I had never been on a quest as a Blood elf in World of Warcraft, most of the information I have about video games is through friends and, even more so, my husband.
I will admit it. It takes adjusting to be in a relationship, let alone a marriage, with a gamer. There are nights when raiding with friends takes priority over time together, housework is done once the next achievement has been completed (which can be anywhere between 10 minutes to 2 hours, fyi) and explosions and other sound effects in the middle of the night are all too common. In my work as a counselor with teens and adolescents, concerns about video game use has become a more and more common parental complaint and parents express worry about the mental and behavioral consequences of gaming.
Despite a lot of information coming out about the dangers of gaming, there is actually a lot of research out there about the benefits of allowing your kids to have some time on the computer or using their gaming console. Here are some of the main ones:
Increased cognitive functioning. Research has made connections between gaming and the improvement of multiple cognitive skills, including hand-eye coordination, mental flexibility, attention, working memory, and quick decision-making skills. It makes sense when you think about it. You have to be able to move precisely and make decisions quickly to attack your opponent or reach your achievement.
Increased Social Interaction. Gaming provides a way for teens to bond with their friends. Gaming for many serves as a social hobby and otherwise shy or awkward teens have better luck building friendships through the gaming world. Now, side of caution: Teens are bound to meet new people online through games, and it is very important to educate and monitor gaming use to make sure that he or she is being safe.
Stress Relief and Coping. Video gaming serves a pastime to blow off steam at the end of a long day. Through gaming, you are able to engage in a story outside of yourself, allowing you to take a break from daily stress, and gain personal satisfaction through reaching the next level, completing a quest, or killing a difficult boss. From my experience with my husband, gaming allows him to unwind from work at the end of the day so that he can be more present in the evening together.
I think the biggest thing to remember is that any hobby or past-time can have risks when it becomes an over-indulgence or a means to avoid underlying issues. And, while I just got done arguing for the benefits of gaming, it is important that adolescents maintain healthy boundaries with their games. Here are some tips for parents to help their kids maintain a healthy relationship with their video games:
Get educated on games. In order to know if your child’s activities online are safe, you need to know what is out there and which games are better suited for your child than others. This may mean watching your child play, researching and reading reviews on certain games, or maybe even spending some time playing these games yourself. Don’t assume games are too violent or dangerous until you’ve had a chance to check them out yourself and monitor your child’s reaction to playing. Some games can be educational, so take time to seek out games that may serve as an opportunity to learn new skills.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Support your child or teen’s desire to play while also educating them on safe internet practices such as what information should and shouldn’t on gaming profiles, cyberbullying, and risks of talking with people online. If you are unsure where to seek out this information, there is great information out there on many sites, including NSTeen.org and NationalCAC.org. I also encourage parents to talk to their teens about their reasons for playing games. Is it just about fun? Is it a social outlet? Is it because they are having problems at home or school that they don’t know how to deal with? Understanding reasons behind gaming can help you to determine if the hobby is a healthy one.
Watch for signs of bigger problems. Certain behaviors and attitudes can signal that your child or teen does not have a healthy relationship with games. Watch for the following symptoms:
· Isolating from friends or family in order to spend more time playing.
· Becoming angry or aggressive when told to turn off games
· Declining performance in other areas of life, such as school, because of time spent gaming
· Refusal to allow parental access to computer or gaming activity
· Increased signs of sadness and withdrawal
Monitor Computer Use. Along with educating your children about safe gaming practices, I also encourage that parents monitor their child’s internet and gaming use. Gaming should be an enjoyable pastime, but not interfere with your child or teen’s ability to complete other tasks. Be willing to limit game time when necessary and watch out for the sites or games that your child is playing. Keep an eye out for who your child may be talking to as well. I encourage parents who find their children not using the internet or games appropriately to have a calm discussion with your child. Use this as an opportunity to educate your child and support healthy game use.
Use Games as a Bonding Experience. Last but certainly not least, don’t be afraid to sit in front of the TV or computer and play games with your kid. Use video games as a way to connect with your child in a fun way and support healthy competition and skill-building as a family.
About the Author: Erin Crandall, MA, LPC. Erin has a special passion for working with adolescents and adults struggling with technology addictions, marital/couple issues, and meeting her clients where they are in life. Call today at 940-228-2171 to schedule a free phone consultation with Erin.