Finding Balance with Video Games

Video games have changed a lot since Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Oregon Trail. Whether it is Fortnite or Minecraft, parents are navigating uncharted territory when it comes to setting appropriate boundaries for screens and understanding the reasons kids are drawn to these games.

For parents of gifted children, it can help to view the usage of video games through the lens of giftedness. Gifted intensity can manifest as a passion for video games. If a child is feeling unchallenged in school, video games may fill that need. Video games measure specific progress toward goals keeping gifted kids motivated when they may appear unmotivated in other areas of their life. For gifted kids who struggle with self-regulation, gaming can provide a comfortable and structured environment with limited decision-making and executive functioning as they follow the path of the game.

Some parents are concerned about the change gaming has caused in the way kids socialize. Video games used to be played on multi-player mode with kids in the same room with each other; most current popular games allow only a single player. While this shift loses the benefit of interacting with a person face-to-face, there is a benefit to the new style of gaming: Video games can give a safe environment to socialize and collaborate, especially for players who have social anxiety or other struggles with social communication. This type of interaction is like practicing social skills on “easy mode” to build up to more difficult situations.

Video game addiction can be a concern in extreme cases. The World Health Organization added Gaming Disorder to the newest revision of the International Classification of Diseases this year. Addiction to gaming is not solely related to the number of hours a child is playing games. The ICD-11 identifies gaming disorder as “impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” If it appears gaming has reached this significant point for your child, it may be time to seek additional help.

For families trying to find balance with video games in their homes, here are a few suggestions:

  • Use video games as a bonding experience with your child. Set time aside to let them teach you about their game. Let them be the expert and bring you into their world.
  • When gifted kids are choosing video games over responsibilities such as homework, parents should ask themselves, “Is this a video game problem or a homework problem?” If the homework is too easy or unengaging, adjustments may need to be made at school.
  • Determine a framework for time limits together. Set expectations collaboratively and clearly explain the boundaries to your child. It can also help to write down the agreement to avoid confusion.
  • Give some leeway to avoid turn-it-off-now arguments. Many games require players to complete a task within a certain time frame or they will lose progress; other collaborative games rely on teammates in real time. Although giving several reminders when it is time to stop playing is more work for the parent, it is worth the effort to avoid the dysregulation of having a game interrupted.
  • Use an app to manage daily time limits and bedtimes without argument. All gaming systems and devices have some type of parental controls available in their software or for download. These apps also give parents excellent options to monitor exactly how the devices are being used.

Video games are neither all good or bad. But they do add another balancing act for parents and children to develop.


Emily Kircher-Morris for the Social and Emotional Development Network

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