Video gaming for children is all about healthy gaming habits like self-regulation and the ability to balance gaming with other activities. If your child develops these habits while she’s young, she’ll be better able to make good choices as she gets older.
About healthy video gaming for children and teenagers
Many children and teenagers enjoy playing video games, and gaming for children has benefits as well as downsides.
Your child can get the most out of gaming if you help him develop healthy gaming habits and make good choices about video games, online games and gaming apps. Your child can start developing healthy habits as soon as he starts playing video games.
One of the best ways to understand video gaming for children is to talk with your child about the games she’s playing or wants to play. If you can, play games with your child, or sit with her and watch while she plays.
Healthy video gaming: rules and self-regulation
You can help your child develop healthy video gaming habits by encouraging your child to regulate and manage how long he plays video games and what kinds of games he plays.
When your child is young, this involves setting ground rules about what kinds of video games she plays, and when, where and how long she plays. Your ground rules will depend on your family values and routines. Many families find it helps to have rules about gaming being allowed only:
- if the game has a G or PG rating
- in family areas where you can supervise
- at certain times of day, like after schoolwork and before dinner
- for fixed periods of time that have been agreed in advance.
You can encourage the kind of gaming behaviour you want to see by praising your child when he follows your family’s ground rules.
As your child gets older, you can encourage your child to take more responsibility for self-regulation. You can do this by talking with your child about issues like these:
- When to play – for example, explain that playing a highly stimulating game just before going to bed could affect your child’s sleep.
- Whether there’s enough time to play – for example, encourage your child to think about which games are better for short or long periods of play.
- When to have breaks – for example, encourage your child to notice when she has been sitting still for a while and to get up and stretch or do something else.
- Whether play has gone on for too long – for example, encourage your child to notice when he’s starting to feel cross or frustrated, which means it’s time to take a break.
- Whether she’s old enough to play a game she’s interested in – for example, encourage your child to check the age rating of a game before asking you whether she can download it.
As your child heads towards the teen years, he might get interested in games that are classified for older teenagers or adults. You could have a family rule about following Australian Classification recommendations, and let your child play only those video games rated for his age.
If you decide to take a more flexible approach, talking with your child about the video games she’s playing or wants to play will help her learn to think about the content and design of games. This includes things like violence, sexist stereotypes and features that encourage you to spend money in games.
Video gaming for children: finding a balance
Video games can be a fun, learning experience for your child. But your child’s overall screen time should be balanced with other activities that are good for your child’s development. These include physically active play, reading and social time with family and friends.
Online gaming with others and staying safe
In many online games you can play and interact with other people.
In some games you can have a controlled online environment where you approve other players and know who you’re playing with. For example, you can play Minecraft on private servers – this is when you connect your computer to the computers of other people you know. In other games you can play and chat online with anyone, anywhere in the world.
Games consoles like Xbox and PlayStation have parental controls that let you block access to online games or control who your child plays with and how he communicates – for example, whether he can use chat and video.
And many games involve social media – for example, you can send progress updates to social media.
For younger children, it’s a good idea to avoid games that involve playing with others online.
This is because children can come across inappropriate behaviour like swearing or racist and aggressive language when they’re playing with others online. They can also get bullied online. For example, children might be verbally insulted, or some players might gang up on another player and repeatedly defeat or kill that player in the game.
Until your child is around 15, it’s also a good idea to limit online interactions to video games where the other players are people you and your child know.
If your child is playing with people she doesn’t know online, make sure she understands internet safety. This includes not sharing personal details that could put your child or family at risk, and never arranging to meet an online friend unless a trusted adult is with her.
Being respectful while gaming online
Lots of video games involve competition with others, and you can encourage your child to compete in a respectful and good-natured way.
It might help to remind your child that being a ‘good sport’ online is the same as being a good sport face to face. It’s always a good idea for your child to ask himself: ‘Would I say or do this if I was standing face to face with this person?’. If the answer is ‘no’, it’s best not to do it online.
It can also help to talk with your child about what it feels like when she plays with other people who are friendly competitors, compared with those who are ‘bad sports’.
Developing video game literacy
Video game literacy helps children understand and make judgments about the games they play. Video game literacy is part of media literacy.
To help your child develop video game literacy, you could talk with your child about things like how games are designed, how they’re played, how they represent gender and race, and how game developers make money.
You could ask your child questions like these:
- What do you like about the game? Why do you like that?
- What don’t you like about the game? Why don’t you like that?
- What do you think about the characters in this game? Are they realistic?
Role-modelling healthy gaming
If you play video games yourself, you can model healthy gaming habits for your child. For example, you can choose to play at an appropriate time and take a break if you feel frustrated or when you’ve been still for a while.
If you’re concerned about your child’s gaming, it might be a good idea to get some professional advice. For example, you might be concerned if your child is moody, if he starts withdrawing from friendships, or if he isn’t doing well at school. Try talking with your GP or school counsellor. Keep in mind that gaming might not be the cause of the changes in your child’s behaviour. Your child might be using gaming to deal with another issue.