I don't know about you but I have experienced plenty of Fortnite battles and I have never played the game! Actually that's not strictly true I did play it once but apparently I wasn't any good. Thing is, despite my lack of playing battles in the game, I seem to be battling WITH it quite regularly and it bothers me. I am a mum of three sons, all quite young, and I know that I am not the only parent that has ended up in conflict with their child over gaming. I can tell you also, that as a counsellor I am even more concerned about the amount of hours children are spending gaming. Now I accept that I am too old to appreciate how amazing gaming is, the closest experience I had as a kid is attacking a joy stick, trying to get Daley Thompson to long jump on my commodore 64. So as a parent I might not enjoy games like Fortnite, but I do appreciate they are a sensation, kids love the experience of playing, it's exciting, challenging and social. BUT also there is another element, gaming can be addictive, one dimensional and anti-social, it can also cause a lot of conflict within a family.
Recently I attended a mental health workshop at my son's school and I discovered I am not alone with my experiences of gaming conflicts. Several parents asked about the impact of gaming and how they can managing their child's relationship with the Xbox. There also seemed to be a strange competitive edge to this discussion about which parent restricts their child the most and therefore is obviously doing a better job parenting! Well I don't subscribe to that, but I did hear how many parents are battling with the Playstation and Xbox, and it concerns me. HOWEVER it is not as simple as just unplugging the game, our kids love it and i is part of their world, so how do we make sure their gaming activity stays healthy?
OK so, let's get real. Games are designed to be addictive in nature. As parents we, and our kids, are up against multi million pound marketing strategies which are all about getting our kids hooked and ultimately spending money. No gaming company has a system built in which reminds children they have been playing for two hours and it is sunny outside! So the way I see it is that gaming has the potential to be the next 'sugar', backed by powerful corporation that don't have our children's best interests at heart. Recently the WHO released details of 'Gaming Disorder' detailing the negative impacts of gaming on mental health http://www.who.int/features/qa/gaming-disorder/en/. So gaming is beginning to be a real problem for some children and parents. I have also experienced children in the counselling room who are as young as 10 regularly spending over 30 hours a week gaming, they don't get outside, they don't talk to people off line, except in school, and it is effecting their mental health.
SO WHEN IS GAMING A PROBLEM?
Tricky to answer, a problem for one family isn't for another but this guide may be worth considering:
Is gaming interfering with my child's school work/homework?
Is gaming interfering with my child's usual social activities? For example they don't want to go to football training because of the Xbox.
Do we argue about gaming?
Have you ever threatened to or actually hid the Xbox/Playstation etc? Is this happening regularly?
Is my child or young person staying up late or having disturbed sleep after gaming?
Does my child lack social confidence and avoids physical interactions preferring or requesting to game instead?
Maybe some of this resinates with you or perhaps you just have a gut feeling that things aren't as healthy as you'd like for your child.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT GAMING?
BOUNDARIES. Every household is different so you need to decide what is right for you it maybe gaming is ok for an hour a day, weekends only, after homework etc. The important thing is that you make a decision, you communicate it and then you hold the boundary firm. Recognise that this may create some anger and frustration if you are restricting use, but thats ok, acknowledge those feelings, your child is generally that upset!.. but ultimately they look to you to keep them healthy and safe and they will benefit from learning to managing without the Xbox/Playstation.
Remind yourself that boundaries build trusting relationships, they teach children to respect agreements and compromise with others. Boundaries demonstrate to children that you care enough about them to do what you said, this is not just important in childhood it is the foundation of good relationships. I know from experience doing this is not easy and our darlings will kick against these boundaries, but remember gaming can have a negative impact on mental health and we are up against companies that don't care, we need to take it seriously.
ALTERNATIVES. If you want to restrict time gaming have some alternatives in place. Build time in to play something else, go to the park, do art, cooking. Having something already worked out will limit the 'I'm bored there is nothing else to do' response. Overtime they may appreciate and manage their own time off the gaming console.
RECOGNISE, it may be hard for your child, especially if their friends are still playing. Recognising their emotions is really important, their feelings may frustrate you but for them they are real and painful. Explain why you are putting boundaries in place, they may not agree but they will understand.
TELL the village. If your child plays with the same friends everyday it may be worth letting the parents know that you have agree some boundaries around time gaming. They may be relieved and get on board with you.
Remember also that as parent we are in new territory that we don't fully understand. We won't always get it right and it can be VERY hard. Be kind to yourselves, you are doing good enough, just keep caring and keep loving.
Finally, If you are concerned that your child is showing signs of addiction and you are finding it increasingly difficult to manage, it may be worth getting some support to help your family overcome the problem. Its not your fault its happening, please don't feel alone.
Thanks for reading this blog, feedback and thoughts welcome.