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Kids and Video Games

Author: Naomi Liddell

Do you let your kids play video games? When did you let them start? I experience so much inner push/pull with this topic. I think I have quite an old lady view on this so I’m voicing it here in the hope of finding out how other parents are navigating the world of video game playing with their kids. I suspect that I just have to wise up and get-with-the-times (to use a phrase that makes me sound even more like a Gran). But I’m interested to hear your thoughts. 
 

Ethan is five years old and although he’s had the odd play with kids games on my phone, the first-ever ‘proper’ game we’ve downloaded for him has been Minecraft. He’s allowed to play it on the tablet for about an hour a day, usually a bit in the morning and a bit again while I’m making dinner. Some days not at all and some days well more than an hour, but you get the gist… I’m trying to restrict and monitor his game time. 
 
My brother is a massive advocate of video games for kids and believes it improves kids social skills (being able to relate to other gaming kids), motor skills, problem-solving skills etc. All of which is backed up by this fabulous TED Talk by Jane McGonigal titled “Gaming Can Make a Better World”. We could also delve into the topic of automation of jobs in the future and how the vast majority of the workforce will be in the tech sector. Meaning that the sooner our kids can get comfortable with devices, how they work and engaging with them regularly, the better off they could potentially be in the long run. 
 
But for me, and my inner hippie-commune-dwelling-wannabe, I just struggle with the thought that our kids can and/or should be plugged into devices for large chunks of their time. Living and thriving in little virtual worlds more than the real world. It makes me feel concerned and a little sad. But I think my feelings might be outdated.
 
I can see Ethan light up when he’s talking about the new things he’s learned and built in Minecraft (motor/problem solving). We’ve spent time looking up recipes for it together online and he talks about it all the time with his friends (bonding/social) so I can see the benefits he gets from it. I’m just hyper-aware that it’s up to me to make sure he spends equally adequate amounts of time out in the street on his bike, with his friends. 
 
As for his friends, they are a mixed bunch of kids, some who get almost zero screen time and other kids who have been allowed to play 18+ rated shoot-em-up games from age 4. Although thankfully they all still socialise in our cul-de-sac, riding bikes and making mud pies in the back garden.
 
I recently heard a discussion on a phone-in radio show (see… Gran) about the recent Fortnite World Cup. Folk phoned in to argue that we were destined to have slovenly (great word) kids who don’t sleep and stay plugged into games for 16 hours a day. Others were calling in to say that esports athletes are just that, athletes. And that they spend huge amounts of time ensuring that their minds and bodies are well looked after, sharp and ready for their job. So maybe kids treat technology with more respect and boundaries than we give them credit for?
 
Are you super relaxed about video games and see it as a non-issue? Do you not allow your children to play games at all? Are you flailing somewhere in the middle like me – concerned about monitoring and what’s best for their mental/physical health in this new tech-heavy age?
 
It would be great to hear how you’re navigating this world with kids of all ages. And what your thoughts/feelings on it are. As you can tell… I’m somewhat conflicted 😬

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Naomi can’t decide which she loves more: adventuring with her boys or being left alone in a luxurious bath with a great book.
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15 thoughts on “Kids and Video Games

  1. Naomi, what a thought provoking topic.
    I too struggle massively with this. My oldest son isn’t able to play games as he is challenged with photophobic migraines and the flashing lights etc of the screens make him sick.
    So we’ve had a rather unique view of the gaming world so far.
    Before he had migraines even half an hour of game play would see terrible mood swings and disconnected behaviour afterwards.

    Now he’s 15 and the majority of his pals are plugged in A LOT! He’s really sporty, with a wide group of pals, but sadly during the holidays he struggles to get pals out and doing things outside of their games. Yes, they communicate with each other online but I can’t help thinking that it’s a very limiting ‘virtual’ existence that there having? I find it really sad.

    I also struggle with the nature of some of the games too.honeslty, I don’t understand why people would be comfortable with letting their kids think that shooting people is ok virtual or not? Now is that the gran in me speaking or is that just sense?
    x

    1. Heather wow! You really have got a unique experience of gaming. To be truly honest, I never considered the medical reasons that wouldn’t allow gaming to be an option. It’s amazing when you’re outside of something how much you can see the problems it brings.

      As for game content, I’m really quite strict with what Ethan is allowed to play and yeah, I do struggle with the thought of him ever playing games that are just inherently violent. My Mum was the same with my brother, there was a ‘no gun games’ policy in our house. Although, he would just go to his pals house and play them anyway!

  2. I grew up playing computer games myself (older brother and fond memories of the Commodore 64 😂) and still love playing to wind down. People are always surprised to find out that the gaming consoles in our house are mine and not my husband’s (he gets bored playing after a few minutes). Following through on a story and solving tasks/mysteries or assassinating baddies is extremely relaxing after a long day at work and requires skill so I think people who assume computer games make you dumb or don’t require effort are generalising quite a bit, often based on media reports. Like everything, I think you have to monitor what they play, how long they play and most importantly, with whom (online “friends” will be a no-no for a long time!). But gaming can be a great way to hone a different set of skills, help kids wind down and also spend time together – I’m excited to play the Lego games for instance with our kids!

    1. Ob and in regards to the violence- i love games like Assassins Creed and even in puzzle games like Lara Croft you get to kill a lot. But that doesn’t make you a violent psycho. My husband loves true crime tv shows and my mum adores murder mysteries – doesn’t make them go off and kill people. It’s not at all the same as killing someone in real life, though I do agree that age limits are there for a reason and 18plus are not for under 16s.

    2. I played games a bit when I was younger too, but it never really materialised into a hobby. It’s great that you find them so relaxing and how lucky are your kids to get to game with their Mum when they grow up?! You’ll probably be the coolest Mum in the street 😂 You make some great points and I had never likened violent games to crime shows and murder mysteries before! Great comparison.

  3. I used to be more like you and have relaxed the rules somewhat over the years. My eldest is now eleven and it is one of his main hobbies. He is allowed to talk to friends through his headset, but only people he knows in real life and he plays on my account so I can monitor it. The games console is in the living room because I am uncomfortable with not being able to see what he’s doing. But it does mean I have to frequently see/hear it and it does my head in. And he likes to watch YouTube videos of other people playing it too! His phone is on a kids account so only has kids YouTube and a lot of the gaming videos are not available on there so those are viewed on the tv, too. I generally tell him to come off when I think he’s been looking at a screen for too long. He has a set limit for screen time on school days. He is moving up to high school soon and a quite a lot of his friends think our rules are very strict, but there are a few others with similar rules. I found that kids sometimes exaggerated what they were allowed to do or play to seem cool and it only came to light when it came up in conversation with their parents. It made it easier to deal with the constant “but Steve is allowed to play GTA until midnight!” comments 😄

    I didn’t allow gun games or anything violent when he was younger but he learnt all about them from other children at school anyway, and he now has a large collection of nerf guns etc. He can play video games which have shooting but are non-gory, such as fortnite. I don’t *like* the idea of shooting for fun at all but I allow it now. We occasionally allow him to play older age rated games but only if my husband has played it first and thinks it is appropriate. He still spends lots of time playing out in the street or inviting friends over the play on the trampoline/nerf wars in the garden.

    My main issue is that my other child is only three. Having fortnite available only in the living room means that he sees it too, and I would never have allowed my eldest to see a shooting game at that age. It’s very difficult to balance with a larger age gap. The youngest is also used to hanging around with older kids who play fight and shoot nerf guns. He is way rougher than my eldest ever was. I wonder how much of that is to do with being exposed to his older brothers world and how much is his own personality. He hits me a lot and is often naughty, but his dad was very similar as a child. I am disappointed that I haven’t managed to control what he is exposed to in the same way that I did with his brother, but I try not to dwell on it too much because I don’t think there is a perfect solution.

    1. Ahhh I can totally see myself in this predicament in the future Jade. Finn is 4 years younger. I have never considered that before.

      Ethan has asked for Nintendo Switch from Santa and one of my rules would be that it stays in the livingroom. But obviously that poses problems too!

      So much to think about!!

  4. I’m in your brother’s camp. I’m a primary school teacher and I feel very passionately that children and guns are a natural coupling and they should not be discouraged from playing with them. A lot of children come from military families and to be told their parents are bad for having guns (even in not so many words) sits really uneasy with me. I have a controlled Gun Play Zone where children who want to play are given the freedom to do so without upsetting those who don’t want to.

    I feel the same about video games and violence. I find it really frustrating when children are given a bad rep because they enjoy violent video games when they are exposed to much much worse on the news and actively encouraged to play with them with Nerf guns and water pistols. As long as parents are aware of the games their children are playing and stick to the age certificates (I had a parent who let their 4 year old play GTA because she thought it was just a racing game) I don’t have a problem with it at all.

    In regards to how much screen time, my daughter is only 18 weeks so I’m not sure! I do think we’ll be strict with screen time unless the game is a family activity. For example, we can all play Mario Kart if we’re in the same room and communicating, but sitting on a tablet will be stricter.

    My husband is a gamer for fun and a programmer by trade though, so we both have a modern outlook on the whole thing.

    1. You know Nicola, I would completely agree that kids seem to naturally want to play gunfights. My son was never really exposed much to the concept of guns, but even without a toy gun would make up ways to play shoot. We’ve seen this as natural play and have never had a problem with it.

      Although I disagree about violent gaming. I feel that discouraging violent games isn’t a slight on military/police parents at all. It’s all in the context, Mum being trained to use a gun in her job isn’t the same as a kid being encouraged to virtually shoot people in the head with a machine gun for fun. I have family in the military who are actively concerned about the amount of violent games children are exposed to. And if we’re talking about kids sticking to the age certs, we wouldn’t really have children playing violent video games.

      As for Mario Kart though… I’m genuinely excited about playing that one in the living room with Ethan once we buy a games console. I have some great family memories of playing games together.

  5. Hmmmm I’m in your camp Naomi and suspect I’ll have to change my attitude too in time! I think it comes from not ever really playing games myself (and my husband was never really a gamer either), so I have no clue what to expect. Beyond Candy Crush which woke me up to the negative impacts of games, the increased screen time and lack of conversation with my husband (we both played for a short time) was somewhat alarming… We do have a couple of children’s games like coding ones, but I see these as educational and absolutely necessary in today’s world.

    My worry is that I see too many children fixated on screens, be it games or television (although we are no saints in our house either!) so I fear the introduction of another way to increase screen addiction. Having said that I do understand the comments above about the skills they introduce (and which I witness in the coding games), so I think limited games time on “family friendly” games (my ones are only little at the moment) sounds good. I do also think that games makers also need to consider the mental health of young people. My understanding (although as a total outsider based on conversations with friends so I may well be wrong!) is that games like Fortnite reset if you turn them off, leading to children playing them for hours, even days, on end to progress through the levels. That to me is wrong, I understand why games are structured like this and if adults want to stay up all night or all weekend so be it, but we need to protect children a little more. I will be avidly reading everyone else’s comments to see how best to deal with this though!

    1. Oh my God CANDY CRUSH. I remember that. I think I had a brief fling with that addiction too. It really was eye-opening, wasn’t it?!

      Totally with you that the onus should rest with the game makers too. Although I suppose it’s their job to create a fully immersive game to play. It’s a tough one.

  6. My son is 5 and he has shown no real interest in games. I had some of the cbeebies apps on my iPad which he really occasionally looked at. I was worried about his lack of interest as it is a digital world now so we got him a vtech tablet with some learning games on which again he rarely bothers with. He prefers doing outdoors stuff, and has a huge imagination. Very interested in World War 1 at the moment so we have battles set up and teddies as dead soldiers he has shot. His screen time does tend to be telly rather than games. He seems happy as he is so I’m not going to push it. Also the question of a phone is a biggy…how do people feel about that. I’m all for him not getting one until 16 and I’m really hoping all schools ban them soon during the school day

    1. Oh I dread the day that Ethan asks me for a phone. My 9 year old nephew just got one and although I think I would have made the same decision, it’s still so strange to think that he has a phone at 9! His parents have tight control over what’s on the phone and how he’s using it though.

      Very much with you that phones should be banned during school. I find them super distracting and addictive, so imagine how a young kid feels!

  7. My 5 year old has a Nintendo switch and he loves it. We’ve set it to an hour a day spread over the day but he loves nothing better than being out in his bike with the children from our ful we sac. Often we’ll have them all in taking turns playing mario kart. Everything in moderation I say. Xxx

    1. Ethan has asked for a Nintendo Switch from Santa this year. And I think we’re all quite looking forward to the family gaming aspect of it. But you’re right, moderation is key. It’s teaching them to self moderate without me nagging though that’s the hard part 😂

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