Last week if you asked me what one of my biggest parenting mistakes was, my answer would have been buying a PS4 for my son.
That was until a few days ago when I attended a school information session by Andrew Kinch from Game Aware. I think there were a few hundred other parents of high school kids (99% boys!) there to listen to a session titled “Video Games: the blurry line between passion and addiction”.
From the small talk in the foyer beforehand most parents thought that their kids were gaming “too much” and were hoping for some ideas on how to reduce the “addiction”. My son has had a PS4 for almost two years (he is 15), so we are relatively late to the world of gaming. I went in with the view that it’s a big distraction in an already busy schedule. In particular, I think it becomes too easy for him to exist in the virtual world and reduces his likelihood to arrange interactions with his mates in the real world.
The session was a real eye opener and I think most people would have come out of it with a different perspective. Here are a few stats that stood out to me:
97% of homes with children have video games
67% of Australians play video games
Studies show a small (~1 hour/day) amount of gaming is fine, or can even have a beneficial effect, and at 12 hours/week he still views gaming as a HOBBY
2.5 hours/day is the average gaming time for 15-24 y.o. boys
The 18 hours per week this translates into isn’t considered addiction, but it definitely impacts the ability to fit other things into life in a ‘balanced’ way
Gaming disorder is about to be listed as a mental health disorder by the World Health Organisation, but the rate this occurs at is very low (~10%)
Despite the above there are a number of positives that need to be recognised about gaming. Firstly, any adult who has tried to play one of the games with millions (I exaggerate) of buttons on the controller will understand that it requires a lot of skill and concentration. Also many of these games have now built in a social component where friends (or strangers!) collaborate in the game or, even better, can play side by side in someone’s house.
He stressed that, similarly to social media, parents need to understand the games and WHY their child enjoys playing them rather than dismissing it as a waste of time. Ideally they would learn to play so they can appreciate the skill and tactics involved. I have tried to do multi-play Call of Duty with my son in the past but I can’t seem to do anything except shoot myself in the foot. This session inspired me to give it another go and spend some time walking in my sons shoes (or perhaps a better analogy is walking in his combat outfit with my assault rifle at the ready?).
Overall, I came out of the session thinking that my sons gaming is a hobby, not an addiction. I need to respect it as a valid interest whilst encouraging him to do lots of other things like basketball, rock climbing, guitar and school - in other words find a middle ground that we can both be happy with.
So tonight I tried to relive my youth. He introduced me to the recent version of DOOM. Much has changed and I still can’t use the controller. Life was easier when it was just arrow keys and the space bar. I was slaughtered in less than a minute but with some very patient coaching from him I have at least worked out how to walk around the first room and aim my gun. Watch out world!
P.S. If you think your child is gaming too much there is a simple quiz on the home page of www.gameaware.com.au