Gaming – what’s really the impact and how can we help

Gaming itself is not the concern, it is they why behind it and the impact that is important.

There is a growing concern that children and young people are spending too much time gaming or on screens in general. These days, we want to be instantly stimulated, at the press of a button. We don’t sit with our thoughts or feelings, or allow ourselves to get bored. We seek quick, short bursts of stimulation and there’s a general shift in preferences towards little sound bites, over a longer book. Although there are costs and problems with this, for example attention spans are worsening, this is the reality of the world we live in today. We cannot shy away from that. Young people therefore, do need to master working virtually and they do indeed need to master all things IT. So while there are risks, banning gaming or screen time altogether could actually be counterproductive.

In lockdown particularly, without the capacity to connect virtually, and often children do this via gaming and social media, we would have been far more isolated. Gaming or Netflix can be a great form of escapism and especially at the moment, this is very much needed. As long as our young people can readapt when lockdown is lifted and they’re able to socialise again, then we shouldn’t be too worried about them gaming more than usual right now.

Additionally, gaming itself is not completely negative. In fact, there are many positive attributes. Children can learn to problem solve, think strategically, think quickly, work as a team and hang out with their friends. Gaming itself is not the concern, it is the why behind it and the impact that needs to be considered.

The research suggests that motivation is key

The research suggests that motivation is key. We need to ask ourselves, do they game for prolonged periods of time to completely avoid real life? Do they not have the skills to manage what is going on in the world around them? Is there a problem in the real world they are not managing? If rather than deal with these real life issues or learn the skills they need, they retreat into a fantasy world more and more, then this is problematic. As a short term measure in lockdown, it makes sense. But when this becomes a persistent way to cope with life’s challenges, then it becomes worrying.

Also consider the impact of gaming on the young person and their family. The research suggests that if the young person uses gaming as a form of prolonged escapism, it can increase their risk of depression, anxiety, emotional problems, and tear away at their self-esteem. Often their sleep is impacted as they stay up late into the night and they can feel disconnected from their families if no one else can relate to what they love doing. Sometimes the young person can also become quite aggressive after playing a particularly high-arousal game like Call of Duty.

And so what should we do as parents?

  1. Understand why they are playing their games. If you feel reasonably confident that they have the skills to deal with life and are not avoiding something they feel ill-equipped to deal with, then that is okay.
  2. Show an interest. Try to connect with your child and ask questions. Maybe play a game or two with them if they allow it. Build a bond through something they love.
  3. Help them transfer the skills they build through gaming to address real life problems. In the therapy room, we relate the problem solving techniques they use in games like Minecraft or Roadblocks to deal with a real life issue. We foster confidence suggesting that if they can solve a difficulty in Minecraft, they’re well-equipped to solving something in real life.
  4. Find balance and boundaries. Some screen time is okay, but they need to also be able to operate in a 3-dimensional world. Find ways they can deescalate after playing and transition back to reality. Give them a couple of warnings before they need to come off the machine so they can psychologically adjust. Explore some ways they can calm down after playing, before they re-join the rest of the family – maybe they can make themselves a nice drink or do whatever will help them expend some of that energy and calm down.
  5. Help them develop their emotional skills. In the therapy room, we see able, academic children really struggling with their emotions. If they’re in need of some help, we have recently developed an online programme called, Taming Your Lion. It is aimed at any young person (ages 7-12) to help them handle their emotions and encourage them to have a friendlier relationships with them, whether that’s anxiety, anger, sadness or fear. You can check it out here if you’re interested.

We hope this helps but do let us know if you’re in need of some more tips. We also recently did an Instagram Live on this topic if you’re interested in hearing more.

Take care,

Pocket Family Psychologist

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