Developing healthy video gaming habits
Your child can have fun and get the most out of gaming if they have healthy gaming habits and make good choices about video games, online games and gaming apps. You can help your child start developing these habits as soon as they start playing video games.
When your child is young, the best way to help your child develop healthy gaming habits is by playing games with your child, or watching while your child plays.
This gives you the chance to talk with your child about what, when, where and how long they’re playing. You can also ask your child about what they’re doing – for example, ‘Tell me about how you made your Minecraft world’. When you do this, you create an environment where you can also talk about the possible downsides of gaming.
Healthy habits also involve agreeing on some ground rules. These will depend on your family values and routines. Many families find it helps to have rules about:
- playing only games with a G or PG rating
- asking an adult before downloading or playing a new game
- making sure there’s an adult around to help children understand a game or solve problems
- playing only at certain times of day, like after schoolwork, before dinner, or on the weekends
- playing only in certain areas of the house, like shared living areas
- having 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 your child follows your family’s ground rules.
As your child gets older, you can encourage your child to take more responsibility for managing their gaming choices. You can do this by talking with your child about issues like:
- 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, suggest your child gets up and stretches when they’ve been sitting still for a while
- whether play has gone on for too long – for example, encourage your child to take a break when they’re starting to feel cross or frustrated
- how to manage notifications – for example, encourage your child to switch notifications off so that they don’t feel pressured to return to the game
- whether your child is old enough to play a game – for example, encourage your child to check the age rating of games before asking to download them.
Your teenage child 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 their age.
If you decide to take a more flexible approach, it can help to review or play a new game with your child before they play it on their own.
Talking with your child about the video games they’re playing or want to play will help your child 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.
Gaming online with others: staying safe
In many online games you can play and interact with other people.
Some games have controlled online environments where you approve other players and know who you’re playing with. 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 they communicate – for example, whether your child can use chat and video.
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.
Older children and teenagers
Until children are around 12, it’s best 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 they don't know online, make sure your child 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 them.
You could talk about what to do if people ask for personal information. For example, your child could say ‘Sorry, I don’t give out information like that’. You could also ask your child what they talk about and tell them that it’s best to talk only about the game.
Gaming online with others: being respectful
Many online 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 think, ‘Would I say or do this if I was face to face with this person?’ If the answer is ‘no’, it’s best not to say or do it online.
It can also help to talk with your child about what it feels like when they play with other people who are friendly competitors, compared with those who are ‘bad sports’.
GPS-based and VR games: staying safe
GPS-based games, like Pokemon Go, involve walking around outside with a mobile phone. If your child is playing these sorts of games, remind your child to check their surroundings and watch out for things like cars on the street.
Virtual reality (VR) games can be good for learning, creativity, movement and social play. But their potential risks aren’t yet clear. It’s a good idea to play virtual reality games with your child and also make sure your child has some ‘adjustment time’ after playing to get their balance back.
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, take a break if you feel frustrated or when you’ve been still for a while, and always be a good sport.