As children fill their time during Christmas break and are exposed to their friends’ new devices, many parents are thinking anew about the gaming and technology options for their kids and how the digital world is shaping them, for good or ill. Brent Dusing, founder and CEO of TruPlay, answers questions below that help Christian parents think through bringing video games into their homes.
Jill Waggoner: How does time on devices affect kids?
Brent Dusing: On average, children are on their screens for 52 hours a week. Anxiety, suicide, and depression rates are at all-time highs for kids, which mirrors the rise of social media. The average age of males exposed to pornography is 11. While 62% of Americans over 40 believe in God, only 33% of Gen Z (the youngest generational cohort) do. That is a crisis. And it all has to do with the messages and intake they’re getting on screens.
Devices are mobile, and kids are everywhere with them, so parents have less and less oversight and input. Content can also be exposed to children from their friends. You might have your own household rules, but once your child gets on a school bus and goes to school, you have little to no control over what they see. Your kid could be over at a friend’s house or at a sports practice when they are exposed to inappropriate content from someone else.
This should be a growing concern for parents, as children in today’s world spend more time online than ever before. In a survey of 1,600 U.S. teens and tweens conducted in May 2022 by The Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institute, the data revealed that kids ages 11-18 play online for an average of 10 hours per day, not including watching television. When the content children are engaging with is not age-appropriate or safe for their developing minds and hearts, this can have a profound impact on their mental wellness. And yet, many parents are still not closely monitoring which games and apps their kids are using. Most have good intentions, but don’t know how to effectively shield their kids from harmful content, nor do they know where to find healthier options.
If you’re an adult and you care about the next generation, you feel an obligation to act like an adult and protect children. We are supposed to do our best for children and that is not the way society is going today. As a Christian, you should care about the health, well-being, and spiritual maturity of children. There’s a lot wrong with our society, and children are always the victims. They are always the ones at the bottom as these negative effects trickle down.
Our mission at TruPlay is bringing positive, awesome, world-class, fun entertainment to kids right where they are on a screen just like Jesus met people where they are. There’s a real God who loves them and wants children to know they’re special. There is real value in the Bible inspired by a wonderful God, and there’s hope and truth to be found. There is truth in Jesus Christ and that’s the message we want to send out.
JW: What type of content is found in many video games that would be inappropriate for children? Is there a rating system that helps parents navigate this?
BD: Many video games let gamers sell drugs, shoot police and innocent people, or engage with sexual content. There’s a lot of really gory and violent content, and those kinds of things dehumanize people. There is a rating system, but it’s easily circumvented by kids. The rating system is also hard for parents to discern what rating is deemed appropriate for their child. Not every parent has the time and the bandwidth to parse through all of it and play every video game or watch every cartoon ahead of time. It’s not necessarily realistic to expect that the parent is going to be able to have the time, but there are ways to stay involved in what our children are taking in online.
Be encouraged it’s not all bad news online—there are gaming experts with deep industry experience committed to making high-quality digital entertainment for today’s kids and their parents. As you subscribe, download, and engage with safe content, you also support a demand for it. You don’t have to compromise on fun or entertainment to enjoy the world of digital entertainment. You just need to choose your sources wisely.
JW: What are the positives of video games that would encourage parents to consider them?
BD: Video games do have real intellectual challenges, so they really are a way to build intellectual skills. They also build reaction time. There’s a lot of pilot and military training that takes place essentially with simulated games. Video games are a great way to tell stories and immerse people into worlds and narratives. Also, video games are a form of entertainment that helps contribute to enjoying life and having fun. Video games can be educational, and these claims are backed up by research.
JW: What are the risks of online gaming where players can interact with other players? How should parents monitor this?
BD: Since 2016, CyberSafeKids, an Irish charity that empowers children, parents, schools, and businesses to navigate the online world in a safer and more responsible way, has surveyed 38,614 children aged between 8 and 13. The organization conducted research in the 2021–2022 academic year to track the digital trends and usage of 4,408 children ages 8-12 years old.
The research, released in September 2022, revealed the following staggering statistics:
- 26% of children have seen or experienced something online in the last year that bothered them,
- 29% of those children kept it to themselves rather than reporting it to their parents or someone else,
- 20% state that they have seen something online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about,
- 64% of children said that they’d been contacted by a stranger in an online game, and
- 26% report that they have friends and followers that they don’t know offline.
In terms of social channels, they can be harmless fun, but there have been many incidents of sexual predators getting connected to children. Kids also can be vulnerable to bullying online, which can lead to children being susceptible to suicide.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to monitor what kind of content the children are exposed to. Using parental controls on phones, tablets and laptops can help prevent exposure to harmful content. In addition, parents can help keep their children safe by taking these steps:
- Talk regularly to your children about their online presence and let them know they can come to you with any concerns.
- Supervise their digital activities or participate with them when possible.
- Set age-appropriate limits on what kind of content they can view or interact with online.
- Seek out games and other content that are safe, healthy, and uplifting.
Parents do have a choice as to what their kids engage with online, and their attention to it is critical.
JW: What are healthy boundaries and parameters you would encourage for play time?
BD: I think that families have to set their own parameters and boundaries with their children. For my family, we do allow some screen time, but we limit our children to 30 minutes a day during the school week and on weekends, there’s a little more time. We also have expectations for our children around grades, homework, sports practices, chores, and other responsibilities.
We have given our children very clear guidelines around content choices. I think content choices are actually more important than the amount of screen time that a child is given. Parents should not feel guilty about their kids being online. There are many benefits and solid reasons for kids to spend time online, yet parameters are important. Households can implement healthy boundaries for how much screen time children are permitted each day. And at the end of the day, parents can collect phones and electronics from their children before they go to bed or keep phones in common areas of the house.