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Healthy video gaming for children and teenagers

3-18 years

Video gaming for children is all about healthy gaming habits like self-regulation and the ability to balance gaming with other activities. If your child develops these habits while she’s young, she’ll be better able to make good choices as she gets older.

Developing healthy video gaming habits

Your child can have fun and get the most out of gaming if you help him develop healthy gaming habits and make good choices about video games, online games and gaming apps. Your child can start developing these habits as soon as he starts playing video games.

Younger children
When your child is young, healthy gaming habits start with talking about what kinds of video games your child plays, why she likes them, and when, where and how long she plays. If you can, play games with your child, or sit with her and watch while she plays.

Healthy habits also involve agreeing on some ground rules. These will depend on your family values and routines. Many families find it helps to have rules about:

  • playing only games with a G or PG rating
  • making sure there’s an adult around to help understand a game or solve problems
  • playing only at certain times of day, like after schoolwork, and before dinner or on the weekends
  • having fixed periods of time that have been agreed in advance.

You can encourage the kind of gaming behaviour you want to see by praising your child when he follows your family’s ground rules.

Older children
As your child gets older, you can encourage your child to take more responsibility for managing her gaming choices. You can do this by talking with your child about issues like these:

  • When to play – for example, explain that playing a highly stimulating game just before going to bed could affect your child’s sleep.
  • Whether there’s enough time to play – for example, encourage your child to think about which games are better for short or long periods of play.
  • When to have breaks – for example, encourage your child to notice when he’s been sitting still for a while and to get up and stretch or do something else.
  • Whether play has gone on for too long – for example, encourage your child to notice when she’s starting to feel cross or frustrated, which means it’s time to take a break.
  • How to manage notifications – for example, encourage your child to switch notifications off so that he doesn’t feel pressured to return to the game.
  • Whether she’s old enough to play a game she’s interested in – for example, encourage your child to check the age rating of a game before asking you whether she can download it.

Teenagers
As your child heads towards the teenage years, he might get interested in games that are classified for older teenagers or adults. You could have a family rule about following Australian Classification recommendations, and let your child play only those video games rated for his age.

If you decide to take a more flexible approach, it can help to review or play a new game with your child before she plays it on her own.

Talking with your child about the video games he’s playing or wants to play will help him learn to think about the content and design of games. This includes things like violence, sexist stereotypes and features that encourage you to spend money in games. 

Video games can be a fun, learning experience for your child. But it’s important for your child to balance overall screen time and use with other activities that are good for her development. These include physically active play, reading and social time with family and friends.

Gaming online with others: staying safe

In many online games you can play and interact with other people.

In some games you can have a controlled online environment where you approve other players and know who you’re playing with. For example, you can play Minecraft on private servers – this is when you connect your computer to the computers of other people you know. In other games you can play and chat online with anyone, anywhere in the world.

Games consoles like Xbox and PlayStation have parental controls that let you block access to online games or control who your child plays with and how he communicates – for example, whether he can use chat and video.

And many games involve social media ­– for example, you can send progress updates to social media.

Younger children
For younger children, it’s a good idea to avoid games that involve playing with others online.

This is because children can come across inappropriate behaviour like swearing or racist and aggressive language when they’re playing with others online. They can also get bullied online. For example, children might be verbally insulted, or some players might gang up on another player and repeatedly defeat or kill that player in the game.

Older children
Until your child is around 12, it’s best to limit online interactions to video games where the other players are people you and your child know.

If your child is playing with people she doesn’t know online, make sure she understands internet safety. This includes not sharing personal details that could put your child or family at risk, and never arranging to meet an online friend unless a trusted adult is with her.

You could talk about what to do if people ask for personal information. For example, your child could say ‘Sorry, I don’t give out information like that’. You could also ask your child what he talks about and tell him that it’s best to talk only about the game.

Gaming online with others: being respectful

Lots of online games involve competition with others, and you can encourage your child to compete in a respectful and good-natured way.

It might help to remind your child that being a ‘good sport’ online is the same as being a good sport face to face. It’s always a good idea for your child to ask herself, ‘Would I say or do this if I was face to face with this person?’ If the answer is ‘no’, it’s best not to say or do it online.

It can also help to talk with your child about what it feels like when he plays with other people who are friendly competitors, compared with those who are ‘bad sports’.

GPS-based and VR games: staying safe

GPS-based games, like Pokemon Go, involve walking around outside with a mobile phone. These games can be fun and get your child moving, but they have some safety risks.

If your child is playing these sorts of games, remind her to check her surroundings and watch out for things like cars on the street. 

Virtual reality (VR) games can be good for learning, creativity and social play. But their potential risks aren’t yet clear. It’s a good idea to play virtual reality games with your child and also make sure your child has some ‘adjustment time’ after playing to get his balance back. 

Developing video game literacy

Video game literacy helps children understand and make judgments about the games they play. Video game literacy is part of media literacy.

To help your child develop video game literacy, you could talk with your child about things like how games are designed, how they’re played, how they represent gender and race, and how game developers make money.

You could ask your child questions like these:

  • What do you like about the game? Why do you like that?
  • What don’t you like about the game? Why don’t you like that?
  • What do you think about the characters in this game? Are they realistic?

These kinds of conversations can help your child develop the language and habits to understand and judge games for herself. 

Role-modelling healthy gaming

If you play video games yourself, you can model healthy gaming habits for your child. For example, you can choose to play at an appropriate time, take a break if you feel frustrated or when you’ve been still for a while, and always be a good sport.

If you’re concerned about your child’s gaming, it might be a good idea to get some professional advice. For example, you might be concerned if your child is moody, if he starts withdrawing from friendships, or if he isn’t doing well at school. Try talking with your GP or school counsellor. Keep in mind that gaming might not be the cause of the changes in your child’s behaviour. Your child might be using gaming to deal with another issue.

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Last updated or reviewed
07-06-2018

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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