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Online gaming has always been a hot button issue for parents and children. In these unprecedented times, when our children are home, bored and dealing with complex emotions due to the pandemic, have the guidelines changed? In this article, we’ll be sharing online gaming concerns, some good news and key Covid-19 gaming guidelines.

Online Gaming: The Concerns

In a very short time, our worlds have been turned upside down.  Families have been faced with situations that have challenged us in many ways.  Parenting has never been for the faint of heart and in these times, when trying to work with our children, conflicting advice abounds. 

One of the most frequent concerns for parents of tweens and teens relates to online gaming. 

Early research regarding the effects of online gaming on child development tended to focus on potential pitfalls related to online gaming, particularly when children played games with violent content.  

Parents have been cautioned about allowing their children to play video games for lengthy periods of time at the expense of other activities. In addition, online gaming comes with many cautions about responsible use, including careful monitoring of their activity, who they are playing with and which websites they can access.   When online gaming becomes a problem, it can be diagnosed as a mental health disorder.

 

Online Gaming: The Good News

More recent research suggests that gaming can have more positive outcomes depending on how it is used and the content. 

Use of technology permeates our children’s lives.  From the time that our children are very young, screen time serves to educate, entertain, inform, and allow them to connect socially.  

Online gaming, in moderation, has been linked to improvements in children’s creativity, problem-solving skills, visual-spatial skills, and mood.  During these times of social isolation, video games and social media allow children to be connected with each other virtually. Multi-player games encourage interaction and cooperation. 

As long as parents are careful to monitor usage, online gaming can be a positive activity during these challenging times.

Online Gaming: How Parents Can Help

Children of all ages thrive on structure, especially during times of uncertainty. In the absence of the week day structure provided by our educators, parents are being called to step in and create daily routines that work for their families . 

Like anything else, moderation is the key.  Here are some tips on how you might be able to help your child maintain a balance between time online and other interests and responsibilities:

  • Maintain as much predictability and daily routine as possible. 
  • Create a schedule that works for your family’s ‘new normal’.  Ensure that the schedule includes time for exercise (go for a walk or bike ride), time with family (play board games, family dinner time), time for distance learning (mornings are usually the best time of day for new learning) and time for online activity. 
  • Consider how much time online is realistic given our new circumstances.  While an hour a day may have worked before Covid-19, you may consider allowing more time online now, while ensuring that your child remains involved in a variety of activities. 
  • Remember that tweens and teens need “alone time”.  They need privacy and time to socialize with friends online.
  • Have an open discussion with your child about the risks of online technology and responsible computer use.  If your child is younger, consider having the computer in a public area of your home so that you can monitor use.
  • If your child’s computer use begins to exceed what is part of their schedule, think about involving your child in developing a contract for expected behaviour, with associated consequences for breaking the contract.

How much is too much?

When thinking about whether gaming has become a problem for your child, there are a few factors that might put some children at greater risk for developing an addiction to gaming.  These include: 

  • Accessibility to technology
  • The child’s mental health
  • The child’s temperament (e.g., easy going vs. reactive; the latter can prove more challenging)
  • The family support system and family history
  • The gaming behaviours of the child’s peer group
  • Other social influences, such as advertising
  • The child’s ability to effectively cope with stressors

Changes in a child’s behaviour may indicate that their online gaming has gone too far and may be a problem. The following are potential warning signs:

  • Changes in your child’s mood, such as increased irritability and restlessness
  • An unwillingness or loss of interest in online learning activities
  • Neglect of chores and responsibilities
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Decline in self-care or hygiene
  • Less expressed interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Lying about time spent online
  • Increased spending on purchase of online games
  • Stealing games or money to play more


If your child is showing these behaviours, it may be time to seek support.  Consider an e-visit with your family doctor, pediatrician or child psychologist.  

Online gaming is an important virtual outlet for our children, especially when the physical world around feels like a scary place. As parents, our job is to understand the concerns around video gaming, stay up-to-date on the latest gaming research and provide safe, monitored access to this activity so it remains enjoyable for everyone. And during this pandemic, your children will appreciate a little more screen time.


For recommendations or consultation about parenting during Covid-19, contact Hummingbird Child Psychology.

 

About Dr. Anita Burhanpurkar

Registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO) since 2003, Dr. Anita Burhanpurkar is licensed by the College of Psychologists of Ontario to work with children, adolescents and families. She currently works for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board in Mississauga and also provides psychological services to children and adolescents through her private practice, Hummingbird Child Psychology.