Hi, I’m Baba, a dad gamer who has been playing games since before the Atari 2600. I know firsthand how gaming can be a fun and rewarding hobby, but also have the experience (trust me) and know it’s important for parents to set limits and help their kids develop healthy gaming habits.
Until recently, I used to be a console gamer. My first “console” was the Atari 2600. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can always get one of the Atari Flashback consoles. I did. Afterwards, I got really hooked with Nintendo (NES) and SEGA Genesis; and later became an FPS gamer on the very first Xbox (oh, the days of the original Ghost Recon). I stayed on the Xbox console until about a year ago when I decided that the machine (PC) I built was a beast and could easily handle gaming; and it would allow me to move my gaming from the Family Room (and off the Xbox) to my office and onto my PC.
I mostly play Call of Duty (CoD). While I’m eagerly awaiting the new one to come out in about 6-weeks or so, I am also contemplating Rainbow Six (another FPS franchise game). The game modes in FPS games allow me to play in 10-to-30-minute increments; which allows me to stop without going overboard. That said, there have been many an all-nighter for me.
I’m not the only parent out there who loves gaming. In fact, per the 2023 Essential Facts about the U.S. Video Game Industry report, the gamer average age is 32 years old. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks of gaming, such as addiction, cyberbullying, and exposure to inappropriate content.
That’s why I’m writing this blog post. I want to share some tips on how to parent a gamer. I hope that this information will be helpful to other parents who are raising kids that like gaming.
Why is it important to parent gamers?
Gaming can be a great way for kids to relax and have fun. It can also be educational, helping kids develop problem-solving skills, strategic thinking, and creativity. In the same 2023 Essential Facts report, the popular reasons are that video games bring joy (86%), provide mental stimulation (84%), provide stress relief (83%), help improve cognitive skills (81%), and create a feeling of community (71%). However, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks of gaming, such as addiction, cyberbullying, and exposure to inappropriate content.
How to Parent a Gamer
Here are a few tips on how to parent a gamer:
- Set limits on gaming time. It’s important to decide how much time your child is allowed to spend gaming each day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “total entertainment screen time to <1 to 2 hours per day.”
- Be aware of the games your child is playing. Not all games are created equal. Some games are more violent or addictive than others. It’s important to know what games your child is playing so you can make sure they are appropriate for their age and maturity level. Make sure you are among the 84% who are aware of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) ratings.
- Talk to your child about gaming. It’s important to have open and honest conversations with your child about gaming. Talk to them about the benefits and risks of gaming, and about your expectations for their gaming behavior.
- Make gaming a family activity. One of the best ways to ensure your child develops healthy gaming habits is to make gaming a family activity. Play games together, talk about games together, and set rules for gaming together.
As a gaming father, I understand the value of gaming time and being in the middle of a game. Yes, I might yell for them to wrap it up, but I also understand that they cannot just stop in the middle without losing all the progress they have made. Some video games are incremental, and shutting down abruptly could lead to losing all the time invested up until that moment.
I game with my kids both digitally and non-digitally. My favorite digital way is to play online with other players. And we sometimes invite each other if we’re all online at the same time and in the mood to play the same game. We also play mobile (i.e., cellphone) games like Call of Duty: Mobile and chess; but we also play “board” games like Monopoly, Texas Hold ’em Poker among others using playing cards, Rummikub, Dominos, Uno, and Cards Against Humanity (this game is only played with the older kids, as it is R-rated). It’s my way of doing things with them. In the non-digital/physical gaming space, I even invented my own game that uses flags and the rooms of the house. I’ll have to write to you guys about that one day.
Planning a game night with my kids is a great way to bond. Having their friends there every now & then is a big part of that. It’s a much more entertaining time when we all come together and have fun. We do the same thing for movies, but that’s another topic for another day.
I’ve heard of parents pulling the plug in the middle of a game, and as a gamer, that infuriates me. I cannot imagine the impact it has on a teenager who has not yet developed the proper emotional intelligence to handle that. Now, I understand if the kid has taken it too far, but you must be darn sure that your communication is truly up to snuff before taking such an action. And that means that they really heard you. After all, they’re playing and you really don’t have their full attention. Slip them a note, or better yet, establish the “rules” up front & ahead of time, including the consequences. I have even gone as far as setting timers, notifications, and expirations. You can do so online for the Xbox. You can schedule Wi-Fi shutdowns on your own router. You can even schedule “routines” to announce a parent-friendly message on your smart speakers. There are many ways to do this, and to set the tone up front. I use these tools to help keep the peace because I know how it feels like to interrupt something in which you have invested so much time, effort, and progress. If you need help with that, seriously, write a comment below or email me. Not only am I very digital, but God knows I also have the experience.
Update: In response to my request for permission to use their image(s) from the 2023 Essential Facts report, the ESA‘s Communications & Public Affairs Director also shared with me (thank you) this gem of a link: The Family Gaming Guide. It looks great and I highly recommend you visit it for more information on our topic. I also noticed in the top navigation “Tools for Parents” and underneath it was “Parental Controls” which contained how-to pages (some with video) on how to exercise parental controls on all the major consoles/platforms. Wow! For this topic, you must visit that; and I wished I had seen that before writing this piece.
Additional Tips from Baba
Here are some additional tips that I have learned as a father of a gamer:
- Be a role model. If you want your child to have healthy gaming habits, it’s important to be a good role model yourself. Limit your own gaming time and teach your kids how choose games that are appropriate for their age and maturity level.
- Be supportive. Gaming can be a great way for kids to relax and have fun. Be supportive of your child’s gaming interests, but also make sure they are involved in other activities as well.
- Be patient. It takes time for kids to develop healthy gaming habits. Don’t get discouraged if your child makes mistakes along the way. Just keep talking to them about gaming and setting limits.
Encouraging Your Child to Take Breaks from Gaming
It’s important to encourage your child to take breaks from gaming. Here are a few tips:
- Set reminders. Use a timer or a smartphone app to remind your child to take breaks from gaming.
- Find other activities to do. Encourage your child to participate in other activities, such as having dinner together, sports, hobbies, and social interaction.
- Make sure your child is getting enough sleep and exercise. Sleep and exercise are essential for good health, and they can also help to reduce gaming addiction.
Talking to Your Child About Online Safety
It’s important to talk to your child about the importance of online safety. Here are a few tips:
- Identify and avoid cyberbullies. Teach your child how to identify and avoid cyberbullies.
- Keep personal information safe. Teach your child how to keep their personal information safe online. I plan to write a blog post on this one day. Stay tuned.
- Be aware of the potential dangers of online predators. Teach your child about the potential dangers of online predators, and how to stay safe.
Helping your child develop a healthy balance between gaming and other activities
It’s important to help your child develop a healthy balance between gaming and other activities. Here are a few tips:
- Set limits on gaming time. As I had mentioned earlier, it’s important to set limits on how much time your child is allowed to spend gaming each day. Just remember: Doing that systematically does not replace good & honest conversations that must be had.
- Make sure your child is getting enough sleep and exercise. Sleep and exercise are essential for good health, and they can also help to reduce gaming addiction. Teach them to have that balance, to not overdo it in any one thing, to diversify.
- Encourage your child to participate in other activities. Encourage and promote your child to participate in other activities, such as sports, other non-tangent hobbies, and especially the activities that promote healthy social interactions.
Dealing with gaming addiction
If you’re concerned that your child may be addicted to gaming, there are a few things you can do.
- Talk to your child about your concerns. It’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your child about your concerns. And as I had mention, start by implementing rules. Ideally, the are triggers that happen automatically so the focus of their frustration is not on the person who pulled the trigger; rather, on the fact that the trigger is there (the consequence). That will help breed additional conversations about the topic. From there, you simply adjust. Like a lot of things in life, it’s a give & take.
- Seek professional help. If you’re unable to help your child on your own, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor. In the meantime, I highly recommend this: National Institutue of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the Cleveland Clinic.
Parenting a gamer can be challenging, but it’s also rewarding. By following these tips, you can help your child develop healthy gaming habits and enjoy all the benefits that gaming has to offer.
Here are some additional tips that I have found helpful:
- Be curious about the games your child is playing. Ask them questions about the video games they enjoy and why they enjoy them. This will help you to understand their gaming interests and to communicate with them more effectively about gaming.
- Play games together. This is a great way to bond with your child and to learn more about their gaming world. It can also be a fun way to teach your child about your own interests.
- Set clear rules and expectations for gaming. This includes things like how much time your child can spend gaming each day, what games they are allowed to play, and where they can play games.
- Be consistent with the rules and expectations. It’s important to be consistent with the rules you set, even if your child doesn’t like it. This will help them to learn that there are consequences for breaking the rules.
- Be patient and understanding. It takes time for kids to develop healthy gaming habits. Don’t get discouraged if your child makes mistakes along the way. Just keep talking to them about gaming and setting limits.
Remember, the goal is not to eliminate gaming from your child’s life. The goal is to help them develop healthy gaming habits so that they can enjoy gaming while also fulfilling their other responsibilities and interests.
For more information on digital parenting strategies and tools, please visit my blog post “Baba’s Guide to Navigating Digital Parenting Strategies and Tools.” ▪️
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