Worried about your child’s gaming habit?

Luke James
Medical Director Bupa Global and UK Insurance
20 June 2018

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This article is more than three years old. It reflects the best available evidence at the time of publication.

As a population, we spend an enormous amount of time ‘online’. Everything we could ever want or need is at our fingertips and accessible through a range of different devices – from smartphones and TVs, to tablets and games consoles. But as we ride this digital tidal wave, it’s important to be aware of the risks not just to us, but also to our children.

“Gaming disorder” has recently been classified as a diagnosable mental health condition. In the same way that we aim to prevent our children from bumping their head or catching a nasty bug, we need to actively protect them from the risks gaming could have on their mental health. Here we look at what you can do to help.

Gaming habits in the UK

Sure, children play games on their consoles and online – there’s no mystery there. In fact, a recent report from Ofcom found that:

  • 40% of 3–4 year olds play games for nearly six hours a week
  • 66% of 5–7 year olds play games for nearly seven and a half hours a week
  • 81% of 8–11 year olds play games for nearly thirteen and a half hours a week
  • 77% of 12–15 year olds play games for around ten hours a week

But when does your child’s gaming habit become a problem?

Problem gaming

If your child games regularly and is unable to control things like how long they play for, when they play or is unable to stop playing, they might have a gaming problem. You may also notice that gaming starts to take control, and other daily activities and interests get pushed aside. Your child may even notice the negative effect that gaming is having on them, but continue anyway. This is another sign that your child may have a gaming problem.

Tips to help your child game safely

If you’re a parent or carer, there are things you can do to help. These tips might not work for everyone, but are worth considering as the gaming industry continues to boom.

  1. Set clear boundaries
  2. Make sure your child knows when they can and cannot play games. Everyone’s rules will be different, but you could consider a no games before homework or dinner policy. Another idea is to restrict how much time they spend gaming by giving them a ‘gaming allowance’. This is a set amount of time per day or week that they can play for.

  3. Adopt a healthy attitude towards games and other activities
  4. Gaming can be fun, but it’s important to encourage other hobbies and activities as well. There may be after school running, football, dance or book clubs that your child might enjoy. Speak to them and find out what sparks their interest. It doesn’t have to be expensive either, take a look at our guide to family fitness on a budget. And for more inspiration, check out our blog on staying active with your kids.

  5. Manage parental controls on your child’s devices
  6. Parental controls are a built-in function to all modern gaming devices. They can help you to manage what content your child can access, and you can even enforce time limits. Spend some time researching your child’s console or devices and set up appropriate parental controls. If you’re going to set a time limit, it might help to understand the nature of the game your child is playing first. They’re likely to want (or need) longer to play a quest-based game than they are a quick-play puzzle or sports game. Try to acknowledge this, and work with them to set realistic restrictions.

  7. Buy age-appropriate games
  8. Games are given an age rating according to The Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) age rating system. The age rating is a quick and easy way for you to identify if the content of a game is suitable for your child. Find out more about the PEGI age labels and what they mean.

  9. Keep game play open
  10. If you can, try to get involved with your child when they play. Encourage them not to play alone in their room. If possible, move games consoles downstairs into communal living spaces. This will allow you to monitor their behaviour and interactions with the game – especially if it allows multiplayer gaming online.

You can find out more about protecting your child online in our blog with YoundMinds – the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.

Getting help

Not every child who plays games has a gaming problem – games are fun, and like anything we enjoy we often want more. But if you think your child’s gaming habit is becoming a problem, seek help. A good place to start is to search for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in your local area. These services aim to provide help and support to children and young people who are struggling with their emotional or behavioural wellbeing.

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If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Luke James
Dr Luke James
Medical Director Bupa Global and UK Insurance

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