How to talk to your teen about their gaming habits and what to do when it becomes a problem.
For teens, gaming isn’t just a virtual world of fun and escape – it’s also often the place they socialise with their peers. For parents, however, it can be a source of a long list of concerns… ‘Is my teen spending too much time playing this game? Is my teen becoming unsociable? How is gaming affecting my child’s mental health?’
Not to mention the fact that it can be incredibly difficult to keep up with the games your teen is playing, whether or not the content is age-appropriate, and who exactly they’re talking to online when you hear them chatting through their headset from the next room. It’s a minefield but it can be navigated. Let’s take a look at some of the steps you can take to feel more comfortable about what your child is playing, how long they spend doing it, and when you might need to take more action if gaming is becoming a problem.
Gaming And Your Teen
Gaming can be extremely important to teens so it’s vital to bear this in mind. Try not to brush it off as ‘it’s just a game’ or ban them from gaming altogether. It’s likely this will only cause resentment and rebellion. Instead, focus on getting to understand their relationship with gaming better. Recognise that gaming is often a social space for your teen. It can be a place where they feel comfortable, accepted, relaxed and safe.
Talk To Your Child
Many of your concerns can be put to rest by sitting down with your teen and having a chat. Ask your teen what it is they enjoy about gaming. Once you fully understand their thoughts and feelings on gaming, you’ll be much better equipped to look for a compromise that works for you both.
Ask them to show you the game they like most and show an interest. By watching your teen play and getting them to show you a walkthrough of their favourite game, you’ll get an insight into their world and a clearer picture of the suitability of the game’s content.
Similarly, if you’re worried about how much time your teen is spending gaming, have a chat with them and try to negotiate set times or even reduced screen time. For example, you could agree that they can game once all their homework is complete or only between the hours of x and y. The key here is to find a compromise.
Now is a good time to talk to your teen about online safety and remind them of why it’s so important to be safe and kind online. You can show your teen our simple guide to online safety here to make sure they know what is and isn’t OK.
Gaming And Mental Health
Your key concern could be the effects of gaming on your teen’s mental health. Every teen is different, and, for some, gaming can actually have a positive effect. A recent survey by UCL, London’s Global University*, found that boys who play video games at age 11 are less likely to develop depressive symptoms three years later.
Shy people or those with social anxiety, for example, find the anonymity of gaming a relief and can socialise much easier than they would do face-to-face. Many gamers have a strong feeling of community and have forged strong friendship bonds with like-minded people. For others, it can be a way to escape from the stress of every-day life and helps them to wind down and relax.
Of course, for some teens, gaming can begin to have a negative effect on their mental health. If you suspect that your teen is developing an unhealthy relationship with gaming, here are some of the behaviours you can look out for:
- An obsessive need to game, often prioritising it over hygiene, sleeping, homework or other responsibilities.
- A shift in their social behaviour. A teen who is becoming disinterested in socialising offline when they were once happy to be face-to-face with friends and family is a worrying tip of the scales.
- Showing little or no interest in hobbies or subjects they were once interested in.
- Poor concentration and/or increased irritability.
Sit your teen down and talk to them about your concerns. Ask them to be as honest as possible and discuss how they think gaming is affecting different parts of their life, from showering and socialising to homework and sleeping. Gently point out the things you’ve noticed about the changes in their behaviour and explain why this worries you. Hopefully, you can come to a compromise of reduced gaming time to help your teen find a healthier balance.
Getting More Help
If you’re seriously worried about your child’s gaming habits and the effects it has on their mental health, seek help. Don’t feel silly for talking to a doctor about your concerns – gaming is recognised as a behavioural addiction and your worries will be taken seriously. Your GP may recommend a treatment plan or refer your teen to a specialist for expert help.