Navigating life as a gaming parent is tough, so our Editor Matt decided to take on the challenge of writing about it in a long-form format. Welcome to the first part of this epic work from Matt, we hope you enjoy it and you can expect new parts every so often. It is also worth noting that Matt wrote this with people that may not understand video games in mind, so feel free to share with your friends and family that are a little lost in this era of gaming and tech. You can catch up on the previous chapter here:
My Kids Stole My Controller: Chapter 6 – Dealing With the Tough Stuff
Now that I have talked about Fortnite and expressed my… shall we say disapproval of sensationalist TV, I feel like I need to talk about the tougher side of kids and video games. Scare stories about video game addiction and an increase in video game-inspired violence in children abound these days and barely a week goes by without some headline about kids forgoing their education in order to play games. This sort of reporting does little to address the reality of the situation, nor does it make it any easier for parents to make the right calls regarding their own child’s playtime. The doomsayers and clueless ratings hunters are only making it tougher for those they purport to protect.
What I am going to do now is try, within my somewhat askew world view, to help parents in simpler, actually useful terms. It is fair to say that I love video games. I have, after all, been writing about them for over 10 years and playing them for my whole life. I also love the fact that my kids play video games and enjoy the same things that I do. But that doesn’t mean that my kids have carte blanche with regards to gaming. In fact, because of my intimate knowledge of gaming, I feel like I am perhaps a little stricter than most parents, especially parents of teenagers when it comes to monitoring my kids’ playtime.
Our household routine, in regards to games, works like this: During the active school week, Monday through Thursday, the kids are not allowed to play video games at all. None. No phone games, no consoles, no PC titles. From Friday afternoon games are allowed, on the condition that chores are complete and there is nothing more pressing such as sport or family activities, to attend. Saturday and Sunday (once again barring sport) allow for morning game time to give Mum and Dad a chance to sleep in. Game time during the day is dictated, largely, by the weather. Good weather means get your butts outside if you want to play; bad weather puts consoles and PCs back on the table. The one final rule we have (and this one, in particular, is one that I strongly suggest to all parents of more than one child) is that it only takes one sign of fighting, aggression or moping (a common state for a younger child sick of losing) for the video games to be switched off. No warnings, no second chances, just an unceremonious pulling of the plug.
That is how things work in my house. But, like I have said many times already, how you approach these things is up to you, down to what works best for you. I will say this much, though: it is important to set ground rules, to set a routine, because kids like – if not outright love – playing video games, and they will fight you over them. Having consistency helps immensely.
At this point, I am going to branch into a little bit of my own philosophy. Said philosophy may or may not be correct, but please bear with me. The kids that have problems with videos games, the ones you see on Sunrise or A Current Affair, for the most part, come from families where rules are not in place, or at least not firmly enforced, and by the time the parent realises that there is a problem, fixing it is almost an impossible task. I am not saying this from a place of judgement. I can see just how easy it would be to allow games to run riot in a house. Life is busy, things need doing and if the kids are distracted, getting those things done is often quicker and easier. It is so simple to let games act as a babysitter, something to keep the kids out of your hair while all the important things are completed. But that simplicity leads to problems down the track and, in the worst-case scenario, addiction.
Yes, video game addiction is real, it is even recognised by the World Health Organisation and, like all addictions, it is a problem that requires serious help from trained health professionals. That being said, it is still only a newly recognised condition, so there is a lot of confusing information out there, ranging from conflicting studies to what is just straight-up bad advice. However, addiction is more than just little Johnny wanting to play video games all day. Addiction is forgoing food, social interaction and basic hygiene to keep playing, to keep living in a virtual world. If you feel like you know someone who fits that bill, then professional help is required, but most of the time setting ground rules and enforcing them, while difficult at times, is more than enough to correct self-destructive behaviours. Just do what you can to get the bud while it’s still a bud.
The other tough side to video games is something I have previously touched on, albeit briefly: online interaction. The very nature of games these days is to be online, to be connected. Being connected means that kids are going to come across other people, most of those will be people simply looking to have a bit of fun with others. But sadly, some of those will be foul-mouthed little cretins who just want to watch the world burn by tormenting others online. Even scarier, though thankfully significantly rarer, is the fact there are certain horrible individuals online that are trying to find children for nefarious purposes. I don’t say these things to scare you, just to inform you. This is modern-day living and these are problems that all parents need to be aware of. Hell, they exist outside of gaming, too.
The key here is, once again, education. Learn about your console, actually get into the weeds with the settings on your PC. All gaming systems have parental controls that can be adjusted to suit your child and allow you to determine what they are allowed to do. These controls can limit the ability for kids to use voice communication online by restricting them to an approved friends list, stop kids from playing games of a certain age rating and stop kids from making purchases without a password set by the attached credit cardholder (better still, avoid using your card at all and stick with store-bought codes to top up that there electronic wallet). These systems are easy to use and, if you find yourself a little bit lost, there are hundreds of great guides and videos online with instructions on how to use them.
But no matter how good the systems are, there is still the chance that your child will come across an online undesirable that swears worse than a drunk sailor with a kidney stone. In these cases, I have taught my kids to mute them immediately. Each game allows players to mute people and I encourage my kids to do so as soon as the gutter talk kicks in. This even applies to me. When I am playing online with random folk the mute button is a well-worn tool in my arsenal for dealing with online idiots. It makes for a much nicer environment and avoids spoiled teenage (and, sadly, grown adult) brats who think that just because they are anonymous on the internet, that they can use language that would make a whole room of scaffolders blush.
The other thing you can do is to simply talk to your kids. Encourage them to come to you if they hear, see or encounter anything that doesn’t feel right to them. It is easy to dismiss kids when they want to talk about video games – I do it myself -, but it is important to be able to filter out the constant prattle about Minecraft, Fortnite, or whatever the current trend is, and hear the important things that they are telling you. Hearing their issues and identifying the problems is key to creating safe online citizens and considerate online gamers. Listen to how your kids interact with others online and, if they step into foul territory, pull them up. I have a rule in my house with my kids: I always ask them “Would you say that to your Nan?” if the answer is no, then they shouldn’t be saying it online. I am not naive, I know my kids swear, it is unavoidable. But teaching them what is appropriate behaviour in appropriate situations is key and interacting online is no different to being in the school playground in that regard.
Video Games are very much an all-ages activity and, as a result, your child will run into people of all ages during their online interactions. This needs to be kept at the front of your mind when you are dealing with your child and their online use. Talking to them like they don’t understand, or simply not explaining your choices regarding their online use, is just about the fastest way I know to get a pre-teen/young teen child to dismiss you and go ahead and do what they want. It is my sincere belief that talking to your child, explaining your choices, and backing those choices up with firm but fair discipline is the only way to ensure your child’s online safety and hopefully prevent an all-out internet-based rebellion.
Thanks again to Tim Henderson for being the copy editor on this work. You can start at the beginning with Chapter 1 here:
Dad, Gamer, Writer, Husband all rolled into one big ball of random matter.
Editor of Player 2, Matt spends his time yelling at strangers as they walk past, imploring them to visit Player 2. Sadly this tactic hasn’t yielded any significant results but he keeps on trying regardless.
Writes on Ngunnawal land.