Kids online: Gaming red flags

Does it feel like all your teen wants to do is play video games? These games are designed to keep us plugged in and playing. It’s hard to stop and they typically don’t come to an end. They are also enjoyable and present us with a challenge that we want to persist with in order to get to the next level or stage. Games can be accessed anywhere – at home, on a laptop, a phone, or another tablet device, as well as on school computers.


Good gaming

There are definite positives to gaming for tweens and teens:

  • It’s entertaining and fun.
  • It keeps them socially connected, giving them access to their friends here and others across the world.
  • Play is a vital part of our development (even as adults) and can help with hand-eye coordination.
  • It helps them learn problem-solving.
  • It also helps build the ability to work as a team.
  • It helps them learn how to be a good loser(!).
  • It helps them become digitally literate – they learn how to use, share and create technology.

It can be a part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle, although no activity is good if that’s all you do. So, help them to enjoy it but also help them to know how to stop. Gaming is a treat, it’s not everything.

How to manage expectations (yours and theirs)

Set time limits

You can’t stand over their shoulder all the time, but you can monitor the amount of time they spend online. Give them a clock to help them keep track of the amount of time they are spending. This will differ from child to child – if they’re maintaining a reasonable balance, with school work, for example, and it isn’t impacting their sleep, then things are OK.

Consider giving them longer at the weekend

You can do this while keeping a structure that works for you and them. They’ll appreciate being able to really focus on a particular challenge unrestricted but then take that extra time back the following week, by taking an evening off in the week in return. They’ll appreciate you giving them the time to really enjoy their gaming and it helps them maintain a healthy balance.

Consider multi-player platforms

This might either encourage teamwork (such as Minecraft) or they may be more competitive, where the aim is to be the last one standing (Unreal Tournament). These can help them learn how to be respectful of others and the importance of being a ‘good loser’. This is such an important lesson for children and young people. Video games can help them learn (with your help) how to be a good loser and how to be kind to their teammates who don’t perform quite as well as they might have hoped!

Try not to have them playing on their own, locked in their room

Be around, this is especially important for younger kids. You could even play with them (it can be more enjoyable than you might think!). By being in the game with them, you can monitor what they are doing, seeing and saying to other kids online.

Consider cyber safety

Talk with them – keep communication open so they know that they can come to you if something happens online that alarms or disturbs them.

Signs of problem gaming

What red flags should you look for that may indicate there may be a problem with their gaming?

Most kids don’t have the self-discipline to manage the amount of time they’re spending on gaming and they’re up against it as the games are made to be endless and addictive. Remember it is normal for teens to push boundaries and break the rules – that’s just part of their normal development.

If it’s interfering with their behaviour, home life, academics, or sleep, then it’s an indication they’re gaming too much.

  • Sleep – finding it hard to get to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night to game or waking up early to game.
  • School– falling behind with homework, not doing as well in assessments.
  • Behaviour – yelling, swearing getting aggressive when you tell them to stop.

It might feel like they’re addicted but an actual gaming addiction (although possible) is very unlikely. But, of course, things can cross a line into being problematic.

If this is the case, approach them calmly – sit down and address your concerns about what’s not getting done – “I noticed you’ve been really tired lately” or “Your teacher got in touch about you not having done your maths homework.”

The most likely response to this will be them telling you that they can manage their online time better. You could give them the benefit of the doubt and work out reasonable usage with them, letting them know you’ll review in a couple of weeks.

Chances are they aren’t going to be able to regulate their usage (because teens' brains are not usually great at doing this). That’s when you can then go back to them and say, “OK do you need some help? Maybe we should turn the Wi-Fi off at 10pm?”

Make the plan a casual one, so it’s a negotiated agreement process. Let them know that you respect they are developing their autonomy and that you want them to make their own decisions but that you’ll need to work together to find a better solution.

Keep reminding them what the boundaries are and why you’re setting them so that they understand you aren’t trying to punish them; you are trying to help them.

  • Don’t get into a battle over the device itself.
  • You can control the Wi-Fi and mobile data – cut it off at a specific time.

Helpful boundaries

  • Gaming, like all other social activities, comes after homework.
  • Set a limit on games or levels rather than time – if their time is up before they’ve finished a stage, you’re going to have a fight on your hands! Let them finish just that level.
  • Let them know how important respect is – they need to be as respectful online as they are to people offline.
  • Be aware of troubling themes they might be coming across – know what they’re playing and accessing.
  • Encourage them to watch out for their mates and to speak up for them when bad stuff happens.
  • If gaming is their thing – nurture it – be interested in the game they play, the strategies they use and what it is they enjoy about it.

Being a parent is hard and it doesn't get any easier as your child moves through adolescence. Speaking with a counsellor can help. We can work together on coping mechanisms that will make you feel more balanced and stronger to support your teen. If you have any questions or would like to find out more, please do get in touch with me.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Seaford, East Sussex, BN25
Written by Jennifer Warwick, MSc Psych, BACP Registered | Counsellor and Parenting Expert
Seaford, East Sussex, BN25

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People who are constantly rushing, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted as a result. I specialise in relationships, family issues and parenting teens and tweens. Contact me for an introductory chat by phone.

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