How to ensure your child grows up a 'healthy gamer'

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Children have endless access to video games via their devices and consoles, and for many it has become a key activity in their daily routine.

According to the Digital Australia Report 2018, an astounding 97 per cent of homes with children have access to computer games and 60 per cent of households have five or more screens.

Maintaining healthy video game habits can be challenging when access is seemingly endless, however as a parent it's important you help your children develop a sense of self-control by maintaining balance and instilling moderation. It is important that parents recognise that video games have addictive properties, regardless of the age they are targeting. The games are designed to appeal to our children and to encourage them to play more, some even presenting the opportunity to buy points to get through levels, so ensure your credit card is not linked to the device. Be aware of the amount of time your child spends playing video games.

The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing recommends that children aged 13-18 years old should be limited to 30 minutes of video games per day, and not be exposed to online violent video games. Watch out for any negative behaviour that may occur as a result of the games, such as getting angry or agitated after playing, or when they are asked to stop. Look out for erratic changes in their mood or behaviour including interactions with friends and getting outdoors. All these behaviours are a sign that their time on devices needs to be reduced.

While video games are fun and a great distraction for children, ensuring that there are ground rules and boundaries in place as to what and when they can play and where they are allowed to in the house will be the key to making sure your child grows up as a 'healthy gamer.'

Here are the top ways you can help your child avoid becoming addicted to video games by limiting exposure.

Establish ground rules

Based on your family values and routines, establish rules of what is an acceptable amount of screen and gaming time, where the devices can be played, whether they need supervision, what they can play and when they can play it. For example it might be for half an hour after they have finished their homework. Negotiate pre-agreed consequences with your child that will be employed if they do not follow the rules such as the removal of the device the following day. This teaches children how to alter and regulate their own behaviour. Avoid using devices as a reward, as this only heightens their value in your child's mind. 

Avoid giving in to 'one more level'

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Children test boundaries to determine for themselves what they believe to be fair, this is what occurs when a child says "five more minutes" or "let me finish this level". Typically when parents issue an instruction and they get no response, its makes them angrier in their tone. This is ineffective and often only leads to parents losing their temper, instead give a clear direction that they need to stop playing for example, 'Angus, it's time to stop and come and have dinner.' This will be easier if you have given them a five-minute time warning to finish up. 

Limit exposure

There are video games designed for all ages, so it is important that you check the age appropriateness of what your child is playing. Violent games pose a risk to children who are impressionable and easily influenced, as exposure can give rise to violent and aggressive behaviour. To help you limit exposure to the game console make sure its packed away each time as something that is always out and visible is much more tempting than something that is out of sight. There are also apps available that can assist parents, to limit the amount of time and when a device can be used for games or connecting to the internet. Parents should also look to offering their child engaging and interesting alternatives to devices as more often than not, children turn to devices when they think they are bored. We need to teach children to use the time productively and creatively rather than simply filling in time. 

Avoid using from a young age

The younger a child is the less self control they will possess. Avoid exposing your child to video games for as long as possible, as they will be able to develop a greater sense of imagination and creativity by learning from the natural environment rather than the virtual space. The key is to look for games that encourage imagination and are interesting rather than repetitive. If you do have concerns about your child's excess use of games or behaviour, have a calm and constructive conversation with them about strategies and new limits that may need to be set. This will help your child to better understand how their behaviour may be affecting others and what they need to do to make a change.

Dr Anna Cohen is a leading Sydney Child Clinical Psychologist. For more information or professional advice visit Kids & Co.