Healthy video gaming
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.
It’s important for your child to balance overall screen time and digital technology use with other activities that are good for their development. These include physically active play, reading and in-person social time with family and friends.
Children and healthy gaming habits
When your child is young, the best way to help your child develop healthy gaming habits is by choosing appropriate games, playing the games with your child, or watching while your child plays.
This gives you the chance to talk about what, when, where and how long your child is playing. You can ask your child about what they’re doing – for example, ‘Tell me about how you made your house’. 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 to review new games before they’re downloaded
- avoiding games that have in-app purchases and pop-up advertisements
- 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 set periods of gaming time that have been agreed in advance.
You can encourage the kind of gaming behaviour you want to see by praising your child when they follow your family’s ground rules.
Pre-teens and healthy gaming habits
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.
Teenagers and healthy gaming habits
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 new games with your child before downloading them.
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, drug use, gender or racial stereotypes, and features that encourage you to spend money in games.
Staying safe when gaming online with others
In many online games, you can play and interact with other people.
Children and pre-teens
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. It’s also important to help your child learn about internet safety for preschoolers, internet safety for school-age children and internet safety for pre-teens.
Gaming online with people they don’t know can put children’s safety and wellbeing at risk. This can happen if children:
- come across inappropriate behaviour like swearing or racist and aggressive language
- get cyberbullied or verbally insulted, or other players gang up on them
- come into contact with adults posing as children.
If your child is playing with people they don’t know online, make sure they understand internet safety for teenagers. This includes not sharing personal details that could put them or your 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.
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.
Being respectful when gaming online with others
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’.
Protecting privacy in online games
Many online games collect data about the people who play them. For example, they might collect data about what your child does when they’re playing a video game. And they might collect your child’s personal data like their name, location, and facial and voice information.
As your child gets older, you and your child can read, discuss and make choices about privacy policies together.
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.
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, starts withdrawing from friendships, or 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.