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Gaming: a parent's guide

 

We have been working with Vodafone and the Diana Award on a project for schools called Be Strong Online, helping young people to support each other with some of the challenges they face online. This article is about one of the topics we have been talking to young people about – gaming.

In 2015 Ofcom’s report on children’s media use found that on average, young people aged 12 to 15 spend more than 12 hours per week gaming. With Minecraft increasingly used in education and Pokémon GO making near-constant headlines when launched in July 2016, digital gaming is a massive part of many children’s lives. So it’s normal for parents to worry about things like the amount of time children spend gaming, the possibility of in-game spending, whether their child’s favourite games will expose them to inappropriate content or contact with strangers.

For parents who aren’t gamers themselves (and even some who are), it can be hard to know where to start with these kinds of questions. Here are some of the key things to think about when it comes to gaming and your child, along with our top tips.  

How much is too much?

If you’re worried about how much time your child spends gaming, you’re not alone. It’s a common concern for parents, but fortunately the research on time spent gaming is encouraging.

A study in Pediatrics looked at nearly 5000 British 10 to 15 year olds, and found that young people who spent about an hour a day on gaming were happier and more helpful than those who didn’t play at all. Gaming for one to three hours per day wasn’t associated with any negative outcomes either. Issues seemed to arise only among the minority of children who played for more than three hours per day. The potential effects of gaming on wellbeing were also small when compared to things like parenting and education.

If British 12 to 15 year olds spend just over 12 hours per week gaming on average, that’s less than two hours per day – meaning the average young person isn’t likely to see negative effects from their gaming habit.

Inappropriate content

The popularity of games like Grand Theft Auto, which feature graphic sex and violence, means that some parents worry that gaming will expose their child to inappropriate content.

There isn’t enough evidence to say whether violence in games makes people, especially children, more aggressive in real life. Still, it’s natural and reasonable to want your child to avoid shocking content.

In the UK, age ratings on video games have been compulsory since 2012. These ratings are set by PEGI (Pan European Game Information) and are a useful tool in deciding whether a game is right for your child. They range from 3 (appropriate for all age groups) to 18 (adult only games that can include very explicit content), and each rating should come with an explanation. You can read more about the PEGI rating system here. It’s good to remember that a PEGI rating won’t cover anything individual users say in a game’s chat function so although many games for younger users do have some moderation, inappropriate content can still get through.

Risks from other gamers

Lots of games have multiplayer modes or chatrooms that let users communicate and play together. This can be a great way to practise teamwork and make gaming a more social activity, but just like anything online it has its risks.

Often online games let you play and chat anonymously, which can facilitate bullying or ‘griefing’ – when gamers harass others for no reason, often by doing things like destroying their virtual property. Other gamers might also use offensive language, or trick people into downloading ‘cheats’ that are really viruses or other harmful files.

It’s also important to remember that the usual online safety rules apply to gaming, too. Lots of young people make friends through online gaming, which can be great fun – but they should be very careful not to give out too much personal information or do anything risky, like meeting up in person without a trusted adult.

Top tips on helping your child

Gaming has been linked with lots of benefits, from better memory and problem-solving skills to improved coordination and creativity. It can be a wonderful hobby for your child, especially with your support and guidance. Here are some tips on helping your child play safe.

  • About an hour a day seems like the ideal amount of time to spend gaming, but there’s no evidence that anything below three hours is harmful. It’s generally best to intervene if your child’s gaming interferes with other things, like homework, offline friendships or getting enough sleep.
  • When trying to decide if a game is appropriate for your child, the PEGI rating is a good place to start. Have a look at the descriptors that come with the rating for more detail. If you’re still not sure, it might be worth reading some reviews or having a go yourself to see what’s involved.
  • Lots of games involve opportunities for spending or in-app purchases. It’s best to agree a policy with your child – are they allowed to spend any money? Do they need to stay under a set limit? You can also use parental controls to disable or require permission for purchases. 
  • Remember to mention gaming when you discuss staying safe online. Talk about things like not downloading suspicious files disguised as cheats, as well as the risks of oversharing and contact with strangers. Lots of games have moderators and tools for blocking/reporting, and it’s a good idea for your child to know what they are and how to use them.
  • Make sure your child knows they can talk to you if they’re ever worried or upset by anything. If they do come to you with a concern, try to resist banning games completely – this can feel like a punishment and discourage asking for help. 

You can get more information about gaming safely here