3 ways to help your children navigate gaming

July 13, 2018

When I was growing up, many of the words and phrases my friends and I used came from music, television, and movies. Words like “righteous!” were inspired by the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” We called things we liked “bad” because of Michael Jackson’s album. Or, we would tell other people, “Don’t have a cow,” just like the cartoon character Bart Simpson.

These days, many of the phrases I hear around my house come from another popular influence—video games. I hear words like “noob,” “skins,” “rekt,” and “mod” tossed around like everyday vernacular. Kids even mimic dance moves—such as the Floss and Best Matesseen—seen on favorite video games. Indeed, the video game culture shapes the lives of many children today.  

Designed to distract

One of the most popular video games currently is the third-person shooter game, Fortnite. Often described as part “Hunger Games” and part Minecraft, it has claimed the time, attention, and even the hearts of teenagers all over the country. For all you “noobs” out there, the synopsis of the game is that 100 competitors are dropped on an island to compete for weapons and other resources. They build defenses and kill off opponents in order to be the last one standing. One writer in The New Yorker described it like this: “In terms of fervor, compulsive behavior, and parental noncomprehension, the Fortnite craze has elements of Beatlemania, the opioid crisis, and the ingestion of Tide Pods.”

Many parents are concerned about their children’s fascination—even addiction—to video games, and for good reason. Some games are designed to draw the player in, to make them want to keep playing. Like gambling, some games have a “near-miss phenomenon” where players “almost win,” making them want to come back for more. Parents of teens who play these games complain of their children hiding out in the bathroom in the middle of the night to play. Schools say some teens play in the classroom on their phones. School work and other responsibilities often suffer for those caught up in gaming. Unrestrained gaming can affect a person’s mood and behavior, as well, even to the point of hindering their relationships.

As parents, we should have concerns about the amount of time our children play video games. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time whatsoever for children under 18 months of age. They recommend no more than an hour a day for children 2 to 5 years old. For children six and older, it’s more difficult to set screen time amounts because children use computers and other devices for learning as well as for entertainment. The AAP’s recommendation is that parents mentor their children through media usage.

3 tips for helping children navigate gaming

While most children don’t have an addiction to playing video games, we should help our children make healthy choices in this arena. Entertainment is a good gift from God for us to enjoy, and games are part of that. However, our time is not our own, but belongs to the Lord. We should steward our time well because it’s important. And like all things in life, we should seek to glorify God in all that we do. So, here are three suggestions for helping your children establish a healthy ethic regarding video games.

1. Make a technology use agreement

We need to teach our children to monitor their hearts and evaluate the influence gaming has on them.

We live in a day and age where there are many known dangers of using technology. It’s important that we set boundaries for our children and let them know what happens when they cross them. Your family might consider having a written agreement with your children about technology use: when it can be used, how it is used, and why it is used. This would include setting time limits for how long they can play; what games, apps, and websites they can visit; safety guidelines for interacting with people they don’t know while playing video games; and stated consequences for breaking the agreement. Signing and reviewing it regularly with your children can help reinforce your expectations and open lines of communication.

2. Limit their access

Parents should limit their children’s access to video games, especially in the younger years. As they mature into upper adolescence, we should help them develop more self-control in order to monitor their time on their own. There are many helpful tools for parents to implement, including ways to turn off the internet, turn off specific devices, set timers, etc. For example, Disney's "Circle" will help you control everyone's devices in the house, including setting time limits, monitoring what children access, and even restricting specific content. Apple and Android phones have settings parents can activate to restrict a child's ability to download apps and use the internet. In addition, there are numerous apps available for phones and other devices that help parents set limits on time and track their children’s use. Lastly, if you have a smart TV in your home, consider contacting the cable and internet companies to see what parental controls they offer.

3. Talk about their experiences

We should have regular, open conversations with our children about all technology use, including gaming. We should ask them questions to help them think through the significance of their gaming experiences. Some questions to think ask and talk through are: Why do you enjoy playing that game? How do you feel when you are playing it? How do you react when you lose or win? Do you find yourself unable to stop playing and thinking about it constantly? What kind of influence does gaming have on your heart and your relationship with God? We need to teach our children to monitor their hearts and evaluate the influence gaming has on them, helping them see that good things can become ultimate things that we end up worshiping. Even gaming can be an idol.  

Every generation has its popular influences—people, things, and circumstances that shape it. Video games are uniquely positioned in this digital age to influence today’s kids. As parents, let’s be wise in how we navigate gaming with our children, teaching them to glorify God with the various gifts he has given us.

Christina Fox

Christina Fox is a counselor, writer, retreat speaker, and author of several books including A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament, A Holy Fear, and Tell God How You Feel.  Read More