Today it is possible to live online – we socialise, buy our groceries, pay our bills and even get medical advice without having to step outside. The internet is also a great source of entertainment, with online gaming being very popular amongst many. For the vast majority, online gaming is harmless, for some even yielding educational and social benefits. However, in certain gamers negative effects can pursue, such as an inability to learn complex information, a general lack of awareness, a lower attention span and a decline in the quality of relationships (Sariyska, et. al, 2017). No wonder then, that parents feel worried when they notice a steady increase in the time their kids spend online.
It can be very confusing for parents to know how to deal with this reality. It is a new era – there is no guidebook, compass or map they can revert to. No past experience of when they were kids to fall back on. They have stumbled into this digital era, of which their kids are savvier.
First of all, take time to understand exactly what your child is doing online. Familiarise yourself with the games that s/he is playing. Then teach yourself about the negative consequences of spending too much time playing online and discuss your concerns with them. Tell them why you do not want them to spend so much time on the computer. Try not to take a preaching attitude, but one which is more of a dialogue. Be open to listen to what they have to say and to their reasons for their choices. Acknowledge their reasons, however, be firm in your decision.
Remember that you are the parent, and it is your duty to set boundaries for your children. Even though they may not admit it, they need you to set boundaries for them. So
, you need to control the time they spend online. Start by asking them what they think is a fair limit and negotiate from there. Put a screen curfew – you may wish to wean off gradually, for example, no screen time before noon, or for an hour before bedtime.
Expect tantrums but stay cool and strong. Acknowledge that they are upset but stick to the plan. Remember that when children are shouting their demands, they are merely rehearsing how to get their way in the world. Parents are the easiest and safest targets to practice on. Do no turn your backs on them, but take the opportunity to provide that safety, guide them and protect them. Furthermore, do not just take something away – replace it with new and different interests. Children may be resistant at first, however, do not be discouraged. Encourage them to find a new passion – a sport, a hobby, doing voluntary work.
It may also be helpful to get in touch with other parents whose children may also be spending too much time on online gaming. Besides providing each other with support, you may also share tips that you may have found helpful. Furthermore, if both your children are playing online together, if you join forces as parents, you may be able to create innovative ways for both of your children to still spend time together face-to-face, rather than online.
Finally, remember that you are their greatest role model. While you may not be an online gamer, you may still find yourself getting more attached to your laptop or mobile phone screen. Be mindful of how much time you are spending looking at your screen and instead invest more time engaging socially, mentally and emotionally with your child.
Sariyska, R., Lachmann, B., Markett, S., Rueter, M., (2017) Individual differences in implicit learning abilities and impulsive behaviour in the context of internet addiction and internet gaming disorder under the consideration of gender. Addictive Behaviour Reports, Vol 5, pp: 19-28
Stephanie Caruana is a counsellor at Willingness. She offers counselling services to adolescents and adults experiencing some form of distress. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.