Welcome back to part two of the truth about video games. Not read part one? Don’t come back until you have!
Video game sleepovers and play dates
“Mum, can I take the iPad to Felix’s sleepover? We’re having a Minecraft party” It sounds perfect, right? Your lovely ten year-old playing a ‘good’ game with all the lovely friends he’s had since nursery? But what if Felix has horrible parents who don’t care whether everyone stays up past midnight playing Left 4 Dead and doesn’t set parental controls on the WiFi?
Then it’s time to engage with your child about videogames and talk to them. Unsurpringly, kids see 18-rated games as forbidden fruit – just like they do swearing, an iPhone X, a laptop and all manner of sticky rites of passage to come. The trick is to say that these things exist and, yes, can be great but right now, it’s not right – you’ll be confused, you’ll hear inappropriate things, it’s potentially damaging and (deep breath) you are going to have to trust them to say no, no matter what their mates are doing.
Yes, you can have a word with Felix’s parents and even put a stop to playdates but remember – there are Felixs everywhere. Time to talk to and then trust your child. Then possibly set up Family Sharing on the iPad…
• Ask About Games on GTAV (learn what to discuss including alternatives): http://www.askaboutgames.com/parents-guide-to-grand-theft-auto-v-pegi-18/
• Ask About Games on Fortnite (learn what to discuss including alternatives): http://www.askaboutgames.com/parents-guide-to-fortnite-pegi-12/
• How to unplug the iPad: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/family/how-to-unplug-your–ipad-addicted-child/
• Mumsnet on bringing iPad’s to sleepovers: https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/am_i_being_unreasonable/3069292-in-thinking-that-bringing-an-iPad-to-a-sleepover-is-a-bit-rude
• Apple guide to Family Sharing and Apple ID: https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT201084
Video games – a family activity
Your child’s bedroom is a maze/dungeon/cesspit at the best of time, nooks and crannies hiding all manner of hidden booty from scavenged loose change to long-emptied chocolate wrappers. Children, like that detritus, can remain hidden in their rooms for ages on rainy days when you’re downstairs making that healthy dinner you promised you’d always do.
As prices drop and voices break, smart TVs and inevitably consoles start to migrate to the bedroom – but whilst a rubbish 10″ telly from Argos and a Game Boy were okay, the combination of immersive virtual world and noise-cancelling headphones are not – in small doses, this time-zapping ‘getting in the zone’ (it’s called cognitive flow and is a design feature – see also boxsets) is part of the gaming experience but can be overwhelming for younger unpoliced brains.
Keep the console/laptop in the front room, make gaming a communal activity with multi-player games, play games *with* your children, don’t use the PS4 as a babysitter (no really, don’t), have a laugh beating your child at Mario Kart, explore the incredible worlds of Zelda or Minecraft together or just spend time together cracking the brain-frying puzzles of the Lego games.
There are plenty of games out there that can be enjoyed by all thanks to co-operative mode, whatever your level of ability or interest – go find them as a family.
• The value of prosocial gaming: https://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2012/may/prosocialgames
• Family gaming on The One Show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKFGT9q_cNs
• Gaming and grades: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/11/video-games.aspx
• UKIE research on positive effects of games: http://ukie.org.uk/research#fact_sheet
• Flow gaming explained: https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/166972/cognitive_flow_the_psychology_of_.php
• AAG on moving from Skylanders to Zelda as a family: http://www.askaboutgames.com/williams-family-the-journey-from-skylanders-to-zelda/
How long is too long?
The days of videogames being blamed for school shootings have thankfully long gone (well, until it’s silly season again) but, much like any digital media in these 4K HD times, the combination of immersive storylines, addictive gameplay (which is a good thing, remember) and repetitive mission is one to watch if your kids are allowed to play for too long without a break.
There’s no hard and fast rule, especially as kids get older and gaming is everywhere from socialising to homework, but recommendations right now suggest that excessive screen time can be a bad thing. Obvious – but it’s the effects of this you need to police as much as just setting a timer (which, let’s be honest, you should as well).
Playing every day, devoting long periods of time, sacrificing other activities, neglecting homework and moodiness… According to experts, if you see two of these behaviours no matter what the allocated time or game involved (whether’s that’s FIFA or Rocket League), it’s time to intervene with some tough love.
If you’re looking for a harder rule, experts tend to settle at five minutes rest every 45-60 minutes of gameplay with a maximum of two hours a day. Gaming *can* can make you overly competitive, tired and even aggressive for a short period of time – as can sport, TV etc – but the trick is to not let it too much.
• The Guardian’s guide to screen time: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/05/is-my-child-spending-too-much-time-playing-video-games
• Screen time limits: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-19870199
• Disney’s Babble on the joys of gaming together: https://www.babble.com/parenting/a-parents-guide-to-video-games-for-your-kids/
• Xbox family settings explained: https://support.xbox.com/en-GB/browse/xbox-one/security/Family%20settings
A quick recap. So that’s respect the age ratings, remember the peer pressure of your kids’ friends, don’t let your kids play too long or alone, keep an eye on the online usage and watch out for tell-tale behaviour… Easy, right? Not completely.
This Morning recently featured a mum who told Phil and Holly how she let her ten year-old play the 12-rated Fortnite on his Xbox solo in his bedroom between 6-8pm directly before bedtime, playing unsupervised against his mates online because all the other mums were letting their children play. Now she wants the game to have a 16+ rating as her child is moody and doesn’t play sports anymore.
It would be easy to take the mick but we’re not going to – because we’ve all been that mum. But what she has done is the last thing on our checklist – she’s looked for behavioural change and then done something about it (well, gone on This Morning). Why not do that today – and then look at our other suggestions that will hopefully prevent your child repeating any anti-social behaviour when the next gaming craze comes along.
Videogames are amazing, whether that’s Minecraft or Fortnite or, yes, Grand Theft Auto. You know it and so does your nipper. Instead of deny it, why not talk to them about just that rather than the bad stuff – who knows, you could end up with a Player Two to your Player One…