So the World Health Organisation has defined Gaming Addiction as an official disorder, and in the press and on the radio, there seems to be nothing but parents bemoaning what has gone wrong with today’s teenagers, and even children younger than that.
How can we stop them gaming? How can we get them off the terrible screens which are poisoning their minds? How can we help the young people to come back into the real world?
I just want to add my own two penn’orth to this argument, as I am currently parenting teenagers and I’m sure that some of my older relatives will be thinking of me and my kids as they read these articles.
So let’s take my 13 year old. He likes to play FortNite.
Big intake of breath form the seething masses, as this seems to be the game which is doing the most damage to our poor innocent kids right now.
I sit in the room with him while he is playing and cheer him on. Sometimes I hear him in great big discussions on a four-way call with friends from his school, boys and girls, who are on the same team. They are planning and strategising, working together, helping each other when they fall, cheering each other on, building shelters, healing and protecting each other. They have each others’ backs. When he wins a game of FortNite, or when he doesn’t win, but does something amazing, heroic, or kind, I give him the same amount of praise that I would if he won a game of football or got man of the match.
Is it violent? Maybe a bit, but so is his sport of choice, martial arts. Sometimes I think it is a good outlet for stress, which teens certainly have at school. When my boy comes off FortNite, he likes to cuddle puppies, and is as mild mannered and polite as you could hope for. When I want him to stop playing I just say ‘last game now’ and he stops, apologising politely to his friends that he has to leave. It is defnitely possible to play FortNite and have a lot of fun doing it without getting addicted or becoming a gun toting maniac. if I were a bit more co-ordinated I might play too, and my husband has certainly had a go, under my son’s expert tuition.
When my boy is not playing FortNite, you will sometimes see him just lying on his bed staring blankly at his iPad
I can hear all the parents tutting – “You let him play video games and also waste his life away on screens? What sort of a bad mummy are you?”
So the other day he came downstairs after a bit of a rest on his bed, and I asked him about what he had been watching. “It was amazing mum, I’ve learnt all about calculus!” He then proceeded to give me a full run down on a Maths subject which I only learned at A-level, and which bamboozles many a 16 or 17 year old.
My boy learns best by letting people talk to him rather than reading books. I’ve read that the Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic learning styles have supposedly been debunked now, but I, like him have always been an auditory learner. I always got more out of a classroom than from reading a (boring) book afterwards. So I understand his style, and if he is watching videos rather than reading books, that is OK by me. I only wish YouTube, Kurzgesagt and TED talks had been around when I was younger.
He watches videos about science, space, quantum physics, programming and all sorts of complicated subjects, and then he discusses them with his dad and me (leaving us for dust some days). When he goes to bed he meditates to help him get to sleep using Calm app. So why would I take his screen away?
My daughter is one of those other types of teenagers…
When you see her she is always wearing headphones. I have to yell up the stairs to her bedroom if I want her attention, or maybe Face Time her, as that will reach through to her earbuds and cut off her music.
Another bad mummy moment?
Yet my 15 year old daughter has an encyclopaedic knowledge of 80s and 90s rock that would put John Peel to shame. She knows more about the artists from my era than I do. I subscribe to her Spotify playlists and I am learning so much from her – she has eclectic taste and keeps discovering amazing new artists that I love. She also sings amazingly (rock and classical) and is learning to play bass guitar. So who am I to turn her music off?
What I am trying to say with all this, is that modern technology can be a blessing as well as a curse. If it is used carefully and well, it can give our children access to experiences and knowledge that I could only dream of at that age.
To me the difference is that my husband and I have always taken an active interest in what the children are watching and listening to. I quite often ask questions about what they have been watching, and I ask them to give me recommendations for good channels and then go and watch them myself. When they were younger, I watched a fair few Minecraft videos, and I helped the kids to set up a studio so that they could play Roblox and broadcast what they were doing on YouTube. Nowadays they tell us about good TED talks and we suggest channels for them too.
Whether we like it or not, most of our teenagers will be using technology in most of the jobs that they go for, and I would argue that when tweens and teens play on computers and watch screens they can get the same educational benefit as I did from playing with Lego at the same age.
I’m not saying either that some kids don’t have a problem. But, as parents it is up to us to set the boundaries as to what they watch and play, and for how long. We need to take an active interest in what they are watching and listening to, screen it if necessary, but also show a genuine interest in them and their interests and steer them toward positive choices. We also need to persuade them to keep active and get outside now and again, but that should be ingrained right from the start and rules and boundaries should always be set, long before addiciton sets in.
My children sleep well and are getting amazing grades at school, so I’m quite lenient with how they spend their leisure time. But, when I say stop gaming, they stop (and sadly that means I have to stop myself too!). Setting a good example is part of the solution. I’m a bit of a Social media addict myself and ‘occasionally’ play pointless games online. I am trying to show self restraint especially before bed, in order to set an example. I find it hard too, so I know where they are coming from.
How do you mange your teenagers’ screen time. Do you consider technology to be a blessing or a curse?