Today’s families are faced with the challenge of navigating the ever-changing complexity of technology with their children. How much screen time is too much? When should your child get a smartphone? Should your child have access to social media? Should your child game online?
Believe it or not, there are many benefits to your child gaming online if they are mature enough to do so. Gaming can improve processing speed and problem solving skills, multitasking skills, and encourage leadership qualities. It can also allow your child to expand his/her social circle and make new friends. However, you need to know and understand that by gaming online, your child may be exposed to more peer pressure, it can put personal information at risk, and your child may become painfully aware of differences between your family values and the values/expectations in other families’ households. The online gaming world is vast, and your child will test boundaries with language and behavior.
The key to making online gaming beneficial to your child is to be engaged in their experience. Talk to your child about the importance of privacy and set boundaries. Once you establish rules and boundaries, do not negotiate. It’s good to establish the ground rules in collaboration with your child, but be clear about these boundaries, consistency is key. Pre-plan what to do if they are exposed to something that makes them uncomfortable (it will happen!). Keep online gaming out of their bedrooms - I encourage you to keep their experience in a public space of the home where you can hear the conversations that are taking place. I would also suggest avoiding headphones altogether.
One way to understand if your child is mature enough for online gaming is to consider whether they are capable of separating from the game appropriately, based on the house rules you establish. If the rule is no gaming after 7pm, but your child has a tantrum when it’s time to put the game down, then they are not ready for online gaming. The same rule can be applied to younger children using iPads, phones, even the TV. An unhealthy relationship with technology can lead to social isolation, addiction, and attention deficits. If your child is already struggling with separating from their technology, you’re not alone. You can read the article - How to End Screen Time Without the Struggle for some helpful ideas. Remember, the benefits of gaming are negated if your child isn’t spending time outside playing regularly and fostering healthy peer relationships in real life (IRL).
Ultimately, almost all of the questions about technology and online gaming will be answered differently by every family. Online gaming is not inherently bad and can be very beneficial to children but can be harmful when elementary-age children are gaming unsupervised. You can also check out the presentation from our Coffee and Conversation about Online Gaming with additional information including setting parental controls on different devices.