Playing video games online, in small friendship and peer groups, has become a favourite pastime for many kids today.
Games that involve multiple players, working together and as teams, can however, lead to challenging social dynamics that sometimes spill over into real life playgrounds.
The need for parents to understand these elements of play, and to set up boundaries and implement helpful strategies, is crucial in helping to provide and encourage a positive playing field for all involved.
We know that there are many positive benefits in allowing our kids to enjoy video games.
Studies have shown there to be social and emotional benefits, allowing children to relax and release stress as well as gain from a sense of achievement and connection.
There are also physical and cognitive skills as they develop hand eye co-ordination and expand on problem solving, teamwork, planning and critical thinking skills.
The extent of these benefits, however, continues to be determined by how they are playing, who they are playing with and how these online interactions are played out in real life.
Playing in online groups or teams usually means the player who runs the server becomes the leader, thus having the ability to make decisions affecting the group, sometimes leading to bullying and exclusion.
When altercations spill over into the schoolyard or playground, the game playing can start to affect the social and emotional wellbeing of individuals.
Different boundaries set by parents regarding time limits, language and appropriate behaviours, can also lead to conflict.
So how can parents help keep the gaming experience positive for all the kids involved?
Learn and Play
Take the time to understand the games your kids are playing.
Kids take great pride in teaching you, so get them to help you learn a new game and have a go playing with them.
It doesn’t have to be for a long time or very often, but it certainly helps them to know that you have an understanding of what they are doing and allows you to remain a little more relevant to their world.
Talk to Other Parents
If your child is playing with a regular group of friends it is a good idea to chat to the other parents to help determine some similar boundaries. Having parents on the same page makes it much easier when trying to enforce behaviours and time limits.
When playing online together and talking to other players it is always a good idea to make sure the game is played where a parent is within earshot.
It is also a good idea to get kids get into the habit of knowing someone could always be listening or watching whenever they play online. If kids are engaged in an open chat, without the use of headphones, it is easier for a parent to keep tabs of the nature of the interaction and communication.
Have your own Rules too
Remember that despite playing in a group and despite what other parents are allowing their children to do, like any parenting decisions, you still have the final say.
Discuss with your child early on your expectations for how they play and the consequences of not playing within those boundaries.
Just as we have expectations of our kid’s behaviour in real life with regards to the way they socialise and interact, these expectations must also be upheld in the world of online gaming, where communications can be even more transparent.
As our children begin to explore new games and expand their online connections, parents must be sure they have the skills to manage these relationships and the ability to regulate their own behaviours, so they continue to benefit from a positive gaming experience.