Updated: Jun 26
The Good, Bad, and Ugly of gaming.
Many videos circulate the web of children losing it over a video game. It is hard not to watch the spectacle and laugh, thinking, how could this happen? It happens often, and passing the blame onto the console, the child, or the parent is usually the next step. What needs to happen is a thorough analysis of why children need video games so much and what we should do about it.
Children are not responsible for the world's troubles, but they have to deal with them anyway. Think about it. Adults must deal with a 40+ hour work week, horrible traffic, depressing news, rising crime rates, media pressure, and family responsibility. Life right? Well, guess who is dealing with the same strains in life. Yes, a child's school week is just as grueling as an adult's work week to them. Their commute is just as stressful. Children watch the same newscast and media and live in the same crime-riddled world. So, if a child offered an unlimited escape from reality, why wouldn't they take it? Video games are supposed to be a safe, controlled environment to visit and reinvent themselves. School and work can be forgotten, and family drama's troubles can be ignored. It is a world and a life a child can control. That is why video games are so appealing to children and parents alike and why we should allow them in our homes in moderation.
How is a video game monster created? Lack of guided use. The world is crazy, and it is natural to want to protect children. How we protect our children is by controlling their environment. We monitor who influences them by restricting contact from unsavory situations. We use tablets, phones, or TVs in the home where the child is perfectly safe. This setup works perfectly up until the word "online" is introduced. Every console and game purchased comes with the disclaimer that online interactions cannot be rated. That is because you never know who you are connecting with online.
The video games and videos available online are open to everyone; it is an entirely uncontrolled environment and very loosely regulated. On some levels, a gaming console is safer than watching videos. For example, my son went a week speaking extremely loud, to the point of yelling. I thought he was possibly developing a hearing problem. The host of the video gamer show he likes to watch yelled all the time into his microphone. I know, not exactly life-threatening, but our home stress level rose every time my son spoke. We had to explain to him it was not appropriate to talk so loud and that his video influencer probably only sounds that loud due to his microphone. It was strange to have to explain something so simple, but that was when I realized our children do not all have the cognitive ability to make common-sense decisions, and why would they? They are children. The experiences people are exposed to teach common sense, and his influencer told him always to yell.
Let's face it, as parents, we are busy, and entertaining our children at every moment of the day can be overwhelming. Parents need downtime to maintain their sanity or to complete a task. A tablet, computer, or console provides the needed relief. They seem safe enough, and the children are in a controlled environment and entertained. The parent can allow the children to play together while they do some work. For short spurts of time, video gaming is a great household solution. Children can use their imagination to become master builders or the most muscular athlete. It is a nice break from reality. The problems arise when gaming switches from an occasional activity to an everyday routine.
Games make money by getting people invested in the stories they are selling. A better character or a new map will always be available to enhance the gaming experience. Video game companies have to do this to stay profitable. This concept is not a problem for a mature mind that can prioritize, but for a juvenile mind that is programmed to satisfy its needs instantly, this is a significant problem. A monster is born without a role model guiding young minds to use video games in moderation. Children will always decide to play a video game all day if left up to them to choose because it makes them happy. People generally prefer a world they can control over feeling powerless.
Once a child has unlimited access to a video game, they begin to feel entitled to it; this is a typical characteristic of being a kid. However, once they feel entitled to unlimited screen time, they start to obsess over it. If allowed online access, it can become even worse because now they have online relationships they feel they "need," and anyone preventing that connection becomes a threat. Online access is the end of the controlled environment in most cases. Parents usually shift from mom and dad to that annoying parents, which is always wrong. Think about it. Why would a child want to go from being important in their game to being belittled for what they love to do in the real world? Their online friends validate the behavior because, of course, the friends are going through the same thing. So, to avoid confrontation and return to what makes them happy, children will begin to pull away. Excuses are typical for being tired, not feeling well, or wanting to be alone. However, if you go and check on them, they are connected back to their video games. At this point, usually, the parent notices a problem and tries to intervene. The result is typically a tantrum, a normal juvenile response to this situation. The outburst does not mean they hate their parents. It means they're trying to manipulate the situation and get what they want. The parent's natural response to the tantrum is the punishment that leads to the birth of your video game monster.
There is still hope for tranquility in your home. The children you love are still in there. They are just more connected to the games than you right now. Turning this around starts with an open conversation. NOT and I repeat, NOT taking the game away. As much as I hate to say it, this is an addiction situation. Help them see the problem without passing judgment. Please make yourself available to help pull them out because they will need something healthy to replace the satisfaction they previously received from gaming. They will also need something to provide the feeling of validation and accomplishment, like a new hobby. We used drones and remote control cars. My son uses controllers, so it seemed natural for us to find a hobby that included them. Any hobby will do if they like it. Once they find a healthy replacement, you will see their reliance on gaming dwindle.
I do want to offer this warning like any addiction relapse is possible. It is a good idea to set up parental controls on your computer, console, or internet router to limit the online time as a gentle reminder to game responsibly. It is super important to stay connected to your child's demeanor. Problems like trouble at school, work, and relationships can cause them to run back to gaming. However, usually, once the cycle has broken, it is rare for them to go back as severely as the first time. Keep the lines of communication open, and make it a point to be available. If they seem a little down, reach out to them. I know from personal experience that children rather interact with people they genuinely care about than the digital friends they do not know. Remember, it starts with "The Talk."
If you are interested in how our family successfully beat the video gaming monster or how to set up safety settings on some popular consoles, check out my blogs at: www.connections2life.com/categories/gaming-with-kids