By Suzanne Anderson, MSW, Counselor & Special Projects Coordinator
The article “Gaming, What’s Going on Here?” by Jeff Devens, Ph.D., SAS School Psychologist in the December 2007 edition (a copy can be found on the AAS website www.aasingapore.com) of the Singapore American News provided a foundation for parents to build an informed and empathetic understanding of their children’s interest in electronic, interactive gaming…hours and hours and hours of gaming. In the same breath it begged for the beginning of a dialogue about, “How parents can respond?” It is that dialogue I would like to continue here with you.
As Dr. Devens accurately pointed out, there is little empirical or diagnostic information to guide parents’ decisions at this point. And the “anecdotes, a few surveys, and societal concerns” may not provide parents with the confidence needed to intervene in their child’s perceived excessive involvement in gaming. Frankly though, parents can’t wait until 2012 when the next psychiatric diagnostic manual is set to be published. While a diagnostic criteria has not been established the consequences of excessive gaming has prompted the development treatment centers in at least four different countries including United States and Canada.
Concerns about gaming Concerns about children who spend too much time with media entertainment were identified by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Concerns include failure to develop friendships, get sufficient outdoor exercise, or apply themselves appropriately to their schoolwork. The APA also expressed concern that kids playing violent games might be at higher risk for behavioral or other health problems.
A 2006 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics confirmed some of these concerns regarding media entertainment usage finding that time spent watching television was negatively related to time spent with immediate family members, time spent doing homework and time spent in creative play. Anecdotally, we have heard stories of children playing until exhaustion, stopping only to eat or use the bathroom and concerns that children are having difficulty distinguishing between the game and real world—among other concerns.
Positives to gaming The reality that electronic, interactive gaming is part of the future reality of the work environment cannot be ignored. Electronic, interactive simulations (games) are being used in a number of different industries for training. For example, computer simulations are used to teach a number of skills including squad-based teamwork, flying, safety, submarining, and commanding units, for example. Advocates for the benefits of gaming, such as Marc Prensky, encourages parents, critical of gaming, to examine the game’s surface content, its underlying messages and required skills. Prensky identifies five levels of learning which can be used to examine and make decisions about the games we permit our children to play.
“How” Level: Involves teaching about how to do something. Does the game teach children how to do appropriate or inappropriate things? “What” Level: Involves learning what is allowed according to the rules of the game. Is the game too restrictive (only one way to succeed) or is it open to imaginative/creative play (more than one way to play successfully)? “Why” Level: Involves applying the rules to problem-solve and develop strategies for successful play. Does playing and winning contain too much violence, too many “cheats” and other “undesirable” elements? “Where” Level: Involves the “context” level of cultural and environmental engagement in the games. Where do our children spend most of their time—in the gaming worlds of science-fiction, fantasy, real-life, historical, super-heroes, athletics, or horror? Does their gaming involvement socialize them to be loners, lacking in face-to-face interpersonal social skills? “When/Whether” Level: Involves learning to make value-based and moral decisions—decisions about whether something is right or wrong. Are our children able to sort out and discriminate between what they are doing in the gaming world and what is acceptable in real life?
Questions to consider about when to intervene With no diagnostic criteria developed where do we start to consider whether gaming has become a problem. We can begin by looking at the consequences or results of our child’s gaming involvement.
Is gaming interfering with their ability to function in life?
Is gaming affecting school grades?
Is gaming taking the place of physical activity?
Is gaming my child’s main source of informal social interaction (interaction outside of school)?
Does my child’s mood change after they have been gaming? Is there a difference depending on how long a session of gaming they have played?
Is getting my children to leave a gaming session to do chores or come to dinner becoming a battle?
Is my child eating their meals in front of the computer?
Is my child suffering physical problems resulting from the amount of time they are in front of the computer?
Is gaming affecting family relationships?
If the answer to any one of these questions is yes, it may be time to consider some interventions.
Another assessment perspective to consider is the affects of impulse control disorders. Impulse disorders are characterized by a preoccupation with an activity; the need for more time in an activity to achieve satisfaction or reduced rewards for the same amount of time involved on the activity; an inability to limit ones behaviour; restlessness or irritability when not able to engage in the activity; lying about the extent of the activity; engaging in illegal (going against the rules) behaviour to maintain the activity; or relying on others to finance the activity.
For more assessment questions Online Gamers Anonymous (www.olganon.org) has a self-test section to help identify gaming issues.
Possible considerations for structuring gaming involvement Each family will have their own needs and considerations which will affect the type of plan they develop. The ideas following are provided as a full range of possible ways to intervene. Items marked with an asterisk (*) are adapted from television guidelines published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Recognition that gaming is a privilege, not a right.
Gaming is limited to community rooms of the house such as the living-, family-, game-room or family office. (Not in the bedroom.)*
Decide where children are allowed to game—at home, at friends’ homes, school, Internet cafes.
Limit gaming to the weekends or 1 – 2 hours of quality “programming” per day.*
Limit gaming until after homework is done and not an hour before bed time (can interfere with positive sleep patterns).
Use gaming time as a reward for good behaviour or work completed.
Limit the types of games (educational, informational and non-violent) children are allowed to play.*
Use controversial games as a stepping of point for discussions about the “real” world.* The Common Sense Media website (www.commonsensemedia.org) provides discussion prompts for parents.
Spend time gaming with your kids. As Dr. Devens suggested at the end of his article, “…it’s time to get in the game.”*
Encourage and facilitate your child’s interest in off-line activities.
Educate yourself about game ratings.
Develop a family contract with each child about their Internet usage. Microsoft has a sample on-line.
The bottom line is that parents are in a place to know their children best. What works for one family may not work for another. Experiment; try different approaches until your family is successful in finding a balance between gaming and other life engagements.
Another resource to inform yourself about gaming is the National Institute on Media and the Family www.mediafamily.org.
Conclusion The world is changing at a faster pace now than it has at any other point in the world’s history. We are in for an exciting adventure and challenge as we help our children and adolescents navigate change and challenges. It is an entirely new frontier and we need to support each other as we enter these uncharted territories. Gaming is one area we can’t look to what our parents did to inform our actions. But in the long run, it comes back to the basics—being informed, involved, using common sense, balance and moderation. In the next edition we’ll discuss problem-solving with your kids. Let’s keep talking!
I would love to hear from you—what you have tried, what has worked, what didn’t or anything related to this topic.