(As a Waldorf family, our instant answer to the question of computer gaming and children is “no”! Childhood lasts until age 21 and it is our job to protect our children. However, I also get mail from many families that are not Waldorf families, and their children are already playing computer games at young ages and playing a lot, so I asked my husband for some moderate thought on this issue. You will notice he advocates strong limits on gaming for teenagers and to not start until the high school years or longer if possible. There are many fun alternative ways to spend time, but for families who choose to have their teenagers participate in gaming, he lists the pitfalls to be aware of. I appreciate his insight here. – Carrie)
For the last five years my lovely wife Carrie has been publishing her thoughts, ideas and experiences to the world in this blog. In that five years I have supported her and this blog from both the emotional and technical side. That’s not only my role as her husband, but as the father of our children.
Throughout that time, Carrie would often ask guests to post and add to the conversation where it makes sense.The topic of computer gaming and its impact on children is a question that Carrie has received frequently, though in recent months the requests and comments about this subject have increased. Clearly this is a subject that should be addressed and Carrie has very nicely asked me to post on this subject.
Why? Well, first of all, I am a technologist. I work for Microsoft as a Technology Strategy Consultant and work closely with some of the largest companies in the world helping them make the most of their business through their technology resources. Second, I am a “gamer” (along with many other hobbies and physical activities,…Carrie here: my husband’s time to game is normally two nights a week after the children are in bed for several hours, so I would say he has a good deal of balance when it comes to playing).. I play a large variety of games including the most popular game, World of Warcraft, where I am also an officer in a very large guild (quick note, a guild is an online community in a game. Ours is over 125 people). Third and final, I am an ardent supporter of homeschooling. I would say that between my passion for gaming and my passion for my wife and children and homeschooling that I am able to give you, the reader, an interesting perspective on this subject.
Look around your neighborhood or your community. Take a good hard look. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
What do you see? Technology! Everywhere you look. It’s become so commonplace that we don’t really see it. Whether it’s your favorite tablet (iPad, Android or Surface) or Smartphone, technology has become ingrained in the fabric of our lives. In many ways, that’s good. We have information at our fingertips now that we couldn’t even conceive of when we were younger (do any of our kids remember the World Book Encyclopedia or going to the library to research things?). Though technology has added value to our lives in many ways it has introduced a number of new parenting challenges as well.
Computer gaming, in moderation and properly supervised, can be a diverting pastime for teenagers and adults alike and brings some proven improvements in hand/eye coordination and improves our ability to multitask. Many games also have a vast social element that –when properly managed- adds value to the game. There are studies (PubMed has over 170 articles on “internet gaming”;) that provide evidence to my comments. Parents see these studies and think clearly, gaming must be good for children. Right? Right?
There are also many studies about the detrimental effects of gaming on vision, on obesity and other areas of child development (and yes, a teenager is still a child). Whether or not we can agree on the benefits, there is also another side of computer gaming: the tendency of kids to play to the exclusion of other activities. Judging by mail to The Parenting Passageway, this is especially prevalent in boys from ages eight through thirteen. Carrie and I both hear the stories from our friends about the larger community of boys (and girls to a lesser extent) who are playing 2-6 hours of games a DAY. Outside of the very real health implications of such sedentary activity there are a number of very real concerns that have been raised about the social end of gaming (and computer use in general) including bullying, predation and a general inability to limit their time playing by children and their families.
Before I dig into the subject let me acquaint you with many of the common types of computer games that you will encounter. Though this article will primarily focus on Multiplayer Role Playing Games (such as Minecraft and Warcraft) many of the recommendations will apply to other forms of gaming as well:
|FPS||First Person Shooter|
|MMORPG||Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game|
|PVE||Player Versus Environment|
|PVP||Player Versus Player|
|Griefing||Repeatedly killing or disrupting a character during game play|
|Ganking||Another term for Player Vs. Player. Typically “Ganking” is non-consensual “killing” of another person’s “toon” or player|
|Toon||Short for “cartoon” but is representative of a player’s character or Avatar.|
This is a somewhat scary list, isn’t it? The last items in the list especially should bother you. While these are part of “normal gameplay” to some degree in adult games, actions such as “ganking” and “griefing” can have profound and negative impacts on younger players. Young people, especially those under 13, can definitely be exposed to these forms of “cyber bullying” and though it isn’t physical, it is every bit as real. Remember as well that even children under the ages of fifteen or sixteen don’t start to develop adult levels of self-control until later. This type of game play can have a greater negative impact on children than on adults who are –at least notionally- able to handle it more. Frankly, I find game play like this to be destructive no matter who is involved.
With “offline” games, or non-multiplayer games like Skyrim and many others, the problems above don’t really happen. In online multi-player games such as World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic or Minecraft, the situation changes. The dynamic of having thousands of people of all ages from across the world in one virtual place will increase the possibility of problems.
Is there safety? Is there a way we can allow our children to play and yet prevent them from the negatives?
There are ways that we as parents can help protect our children but it requires us to be very involved. Here’s a list of recommendations
- If your child is under the age of 14, then consider the course of action of “No online games” (Carrie here: Families influenced by Waldorf parenting and education in their views may not even choose to address this until their teenager is around fifteen or sixteen).
- If your child is over 14, only allow them to play online games that are appropriate. (See below for more help in determining this). Learn about the game, examine the website and understand what mechanisms the game has to protect children. Most games have “Chat Filters” that will obscure/eliminate any bad language. Many have servers that are explicitly for younger kids. Learn and make an educated decision.
- If your child is already playing games, and you are comfortable with that in your family, but your teenager is not online yet: See #1.
A number of readers have asked specifically about games like Minecraft which have “private servers”. Minecraft will allow you to create a game world that is restricted to just those you invite. This is often seen as benign and many parents let their children onto these servers. Like the suggestions above, it depends: Do you know the parents of the children who are running the game? Does your child play with these children in the “real world”? Make an educated decision. Don’t assume just because it’s private that it’s safe.
Safe Gaming Tips.
Since many kids are already playing computer games, how can we ensure their overall physical well-being? I suggest that you start with the end in mind.
- Like television, restrict the amount of time your teenager is able to play at a single session and for the entire week. A number of adult gamers who are parents have suggested 1 hour play time, no more than 4-5 hours a week for teenagers.
- Review content from major online presences such as Microsof.. E.g. Online Gaming: Help Kids Play it Safe
- Set consistent and clear rules about “screen time”, whether it be computer games or television. The American Academy of Pediatrics (and I’m sure similar agencies around the world) have recommendations that you can review here. The AAP recommends “no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming a day”.
- As with the television, a child’s room doesn’t need a computer. If you choose to do this anyway for a teenaged child, as a parent I would highly recommend having an open dialog with your child and keeping no secrets. Connection is key.
- Encourage your children to expand their creative minds. In computer games, you become immersed in someone else’s vision. Kids of all ages need to have a wide range of activities from reading to hobbies to athletics.
- Get them out of the house and go play with friends! I cannot stress the need for vigorous activity in our children! It not only sets the stage for healthy lifestyles later on, but exercise promotes a general sense of well-being and belong in our children NOW.
(Carrie here: I want to thank my husband for writing here today. :).