There is no doubt that in modern society many children enjoy playing computer games, particularly online. Statistics show that in the United Kingdom, children aged between 12 and 15 spend on average 14 hours a week gaming. An enormous 95% of parents are worried about the impact gaming has on their children.
The issue of the use of video games often comes up in our discussions with clients who understandably feel concerned about the welfare of their children. Often our leading family lawyers are asked what can be very challenging questions about the impact on children’s wellbeing of playing video games, particularly on their mental health.
Are the video games suitable and are they having a negative impact on my child?
Some of the most popular video games in 2019 have been:
Call of Duty WWII
Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Red Dead Redemption II
Grand Theft Auto V
It is interesting that out of the 5 video games listed above, Common Sense Media (leading source of entertainment and technology recommendations for families) confirms that all of the above (save for Fortnite) are recommended for people aged 18 or over with Fornite being recommended for children aged 13 and over.
It is actually alarming to read that many of these video games are said to be “brimming with gang violence, nudity, extremely coarse language, and drug and alcohol abuse”.
Many parents find themselves conflicted when deciding the parameters of their children’s gaming. Are they guided by the rating on the box or do they make an informed decision, whether this be via a family discussion and setting boundaries or discussing it with other parents? However, if parents really knew the content of the video games their children want to play, would they allow them?
All of today’s gaming consoles have parental controls. These controls allow parents to help families keep track of the games their children are playing.
Talk to your children and provide rules. If there is an aspect of a game which is not appropriate for your child, ask them not to visit that area of the game and explain why. Much of this will come with trust and obedience, however this can be carefully monitored. It is often advised not to allow a child to have a console in their bedroom as this will discourage late night gaming and if gaming is in a main room in the family house this will allow more careful monitoring of the games being played.
Time spent on video games
For children, playing video games is a very normal hobby. However it is important, as with anything, that it is enjoyed in moderation. Often parents find themselves in a state of concern when children are obsessively playing games and don’t want to do anything else. Excessive gaming leads to less time spent together as a family. And at a time of divorce and separation, this can cause parents significant concern. Children can often become engrossed in video games to escape reality. If your child is suddenly isolating themselves from the family environment, there may be an underlying issue and it is always best to address this.
If you have set a limit on how much time your child is allowed to play from the outset, bad habits are less likely to occur.
A contentious issue within families often arises when a child does not want to stop playing when their parents request them to do so. If you set a control within parental controls which determines how long your child plays on the game for, the game will automatically stop once the time has elapsed. This can be an excellent way to avoid arguments about when to stop playing and will set a precedent and understanding as to how long playing is allowed.
Online gaming and confidentiality
Children who play online have the ability to enter chat forums and have the ability to communicate via headsets.
Twitch is one online gaming platform that allows a gamer to live stream their gaming (and any anything else that a webcam can pick up). Difficulties can arise when one parent is more comfortable with the child playing interactive games or having a public profile in the gaming world compared to the other.
Kara Swift, an associate at Family Law in Partnership has often come across this issue. What a child is allowed to do at one parent’s home compared to another can create a lack of structure or unclear boundaries which can be confusing for the child. This is where a parenting plan can be helpful. Parenting plans can set out the parents’ agreements and expectations as to how they will co-parent. The plan could set out the number of hours that they agree the child may spend gaming and/or the sorts of games they may play and with whom. Whilst rules may be slightly different in each household, the importance is to have a united front – recognising the approach of each parent, not allowing these issues to be something that the child can use to play off each parent and ensuring that the parents read from the same hymn sheet when it comes to discussing the importance of safety online.
The NSPCC website highlights the biggest risks of online gaming to be:
- Children may view inappropriate or upsetting content
- Some players can be abusive towards others
- Children may play with adults they don’t know
- Some children may find it hard to stop playing games
The NSPCC website also has some great tips as to how to keep children safe whilst playing online, which can be found here.
One of the main tips which the NSPCC encourage, and which we also advise parents to do, is to keep communicating with children about the games they are playing. Remind children they should tell a trusted adult, like a teacher or parent, if they see or hear something that upsets them when gaming.
Remember too that the headsets worn by children during gaming can often pick up background noise. Therefore it is important that nothing of a confidential nature is discussed in the surrounding area.
It is not just children who participate in gaming.
The Institute of Family Studies has recently reported on a case where a husband became addicted to video games. The case illustrates the fact that such an addiction can alter the family dynamic in a number of negative ways.
The IFS reports that “one recent study found that spouses of video game addicts reported changes in three areas of their life due to their partners’ gaming habits. First, there were changes in their partner, such as increased isolation, defensiveness, and personal health consequences (such as poor health from neglecting exercise). Second, spouses reported changes in themselves, including increasing anger and resentment toward their spouse. They also experienced growing stress, frustration, and general sadness. Finally, spouses reported significant changes in the relationship and family roles. They reported that gaming decreased help around the house, talking with their children, sexual intimacy, and financial loss due to the money spent on video games and problems at work.”
Of course, gaming does not necessarily lead to a breakdown in a relationship. However the fact that spouses have played excessive amounts of computer games has been cited in unreasonable behaviour petitions and ultimately can be a contributory factor to end what may already be a fragile relationship.
For many children and adults, gaming is a perfectly fine hobby and one which can be enjoyed. However, it is important that video games are used as an entertaining activity in moderation. For children it is imperative that parents carefully monitor the suitability of the games and the communication involved online and that they are brought back to living in the “real world” after gaming sessions. If you are married or in a relationship and are finding it difficult to tolerate your partner’s constant gaming, again communication is key. Talk and express your concerns and work through issues together.
At Family Law in Partnership we support our clients through divorce and separation with our expert legal advice and our range of family support services including in-house counsellors. If you could like further information on how we can help you through divorce and separation, whilst supporting your children, please speak with any of our top London divorce and family lawyers on T: 020 7420 5000 or contact any member of our team at E: email@example.com