I read an article* about the new video game, Fortnite, the other day. According to the article, the game has some parents worried because their kids seem to have more difficulty turning it off than other video games. It prompted me to jot down a few tips to support you and your kids as you set limits with screen time this summer.
DO keep strong connections between your child and family, friends and community. Schedule or create time for:
• screen-free time with your kids daily,
• screen-free play dates with friends (out in nature, when possible,) and
• fun time with other groups you belong to (e.g., sports, church).
Do your best to encourage lots of face to face time rather than screen time.
DO create opportunities for your kids to have real experiences similar to the types of challenges they’re seeking in the video games.
• Ask genuinely curious questions about what they love about the video games. Often it’s adventure, or challenge, or sometimes even to help people or to be a “hero”. (They’ll love to tell you about it!)
• Once you gain an understanding, find other ways to give them a similar experience experience—but physically, mentally and emotionally, in real life.
(Many kids like challenge, adventure, and need to find “their edge”. In our safety-oriented culture, they often can’t find what they deeply crave. My son has had opportunities to find his edge and challenge himself through attending outdoor wilderness programs. It’s been life-changing. In these programs, the kids have good mentorship to learn skills of survival, shelter-building, carving, and engaging in various outdoor challenges—all while having experienced mentors help them deepen their own self-awareness about their passions and feelings.)
DO watch your child for signs that the games may be having a negative impact: Any change in behaviour that could include difficulty focusing, anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, changes in interaction patterns with family or friends, more intense emotions than usual.
DO set limits, and don’t hesitate to change them if you see negative symptoms in your child (both time limits, and limits about which games your child is allowed to play). I feel compelled to say that I’ve had a lot of challenges with my own son and screen time in the past, and while he’s considerably less prone to wanting to play video games at the present time, my recommendation to any parent of young children would be to delay any access to gaming for as long as possible, and to limit it severely once it becomes inevitable that they are going to play because of access at friends’ homes or other places. Make no mistake—the research shows that playing any video games affects the physiology of the brain. Levelling up, getting rewards—all trigger bursts of dopamine to be released in the brain. (And there’s solid evidence that video game manufacturers do use this knowledge to create games that are addictive.) Dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated the excited feeling you get when you see something that has given you pleasure in the past (e.g., a video game that you received rewards in). The more that dopamine is produced artificially in response to something like gaming (or doing cocaine, for instance), the less it is produced naturally in other life situations—which is what leads to the craving or addiction when it (playing the video game) isn’t present.
SHARE information about video games with likeminded parents, and support each other in setting similar limits when your kids have play dates with each other. That way, the kids don’t feel left out or feel as if everyone is playing except them.
Maintaining the Relationship and Learning from Experience
If your child is having emotional outbursts or intense emotions, as described in the article linked below, DO help them connect with their feelings, and DON’T punish.
Support your child by helping them recognize their feelings and learning how to work skilfully with them rather than taking the game away as a punishment. For example, if my child was having emotional outbursts as a result of playing a video game, I might tell him he needed to take a break from it, because when anything in life (video games, loud music, large parties) overstimulates us to the point that we can’t bring our own body back into a state of calm, we need to be kind to our body by removing the stimulation, and practicing calming ourselves with smaller stimulations (baby steps). This builds healthy wiring of the nervous system, and supports children to develop and learn self-regulation without feeling shamed or as if they’re “bad”. This type of approach helps you stay connected to your child because you’re acknowledging their experience and talking about the situation in a way that helps them understand how they can be healthy, and you’re not focusing on their behaviour (and labelling it as inadequate).
If this is something you struggle with, and you’d like some specific information and language for how to talk with your child in a way that both educates him or her, and builds connection (rather than disconnection), I’d be happy to support you in a telephone session. In my work with parents, I’ve seen that having the ability to share real scientific information (in simple terms) can help children see how important it is to have limits, even if they’re still not completely happy with them. When they understand, they’re often more willing to live with the limits rather than pulling away from you rebelliously.
You can reach me at email@example.com or 250-744-0207
And, as always, if you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you below.
PS: I’m still writing the 3rd blogpost in the 4-part series on children and regulation. Stay tuned!
*Original article that I refer to in the first paragraph: https://childmind.org/article/parents-guide-dealing-fortnite/
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