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Is Your Child a Gamer?

Four ways to protect your child from video game addictions

Kids addicted to the gameWhether it is on the MRT or during Chinese New Year visitations, one cannot help but encounter children, youth, and adults fiddling with their mobile devices. While some of them might be socialising electronically through the popular Facebook or WhatsApp applications, many of them are entertaining themselves through video games. At social gatherings, it is not uncommon to hear parents grouse about children who seem to be inseparable from their smartphones and videogames.

In recent years, video games have become a serious competitor for money and time compared to movies or music. The Mature 18-rated game Grand Theft Auto V hit US$1 billion in sales three days after its launch in 2013, making it the fastest-selling entertainment product in history. According to a Money Online Global report in 2011, Singapore tops a list of six Asian countries in average spending per person on video games. It is, therefore, not surprising that gaming has found its place as a mainstream form of entertainment for many Singaporean children and youth.

Singapore as a society values its technological advances, and information technology has been incorporated into our educational systems. Students are often required to use the computer to complete their homework, do research on school projects, or access educational games. As their proficiency with digital technology increases, Singaporean children have become more technologically savvy compared to their parents, who did not grow up with a mouse or touch-screen in hand.

What Parents Can Do

That said, gaming does bring a number of benefits, and like any hobby, you need to manage it well in your children to prevent addiction and other problems, such as cyberbullying or unknowingly spending large sums of money through in-game transactions.

As a psychologist and cyber-wellness counsellor, I have spent years helping video game addicts, and I speak to clients from personal experience. As a youth, I spent long hours gaming, and competed in and won international online game tournaments. My wife and two daughters also enjoy video games. What follows is my advice for parents wishing to guide their children through this new and exciting world.

1.      Strengthen your relationship with your children.

Josh McDowell, author of numerous books for parents and children, is known for his quote: “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.” Before parents lay down the rules and enforce consequences for video gaming, children need to know that their parents love them unconditionally.

Asian parents tend to show their love for their children through acts of service, such as buying food or helping them with their school work. However, most children also want their parents to affirm them, spend time with them, or show their affection through a thoughtful gift or a caring touch.

By making such contributions to the ‘love bank’ in your children, you will grow a positive ‘balance’ to make withdrawals when you have to make hard decisions in the area of video gaming, or to manage other challenging behaviours.

2.      Develop your children holistically at a young age.

As children grow, they need to pick up important developmental skills in the physical, cognitive, and social domains. Introducing video games and electronic devices at a young age can be detrimental to their achievement of these milestones. Parents need to understand that electronic media can be very stimulating, and many other childhood activities such as reading, art and craft, and sports can become dull by comparison.

Delay the introduction of electronic entertainment devices for as long as you can, and take advantage of this window to introduce a wide variety of healthy physical, cognitive, and social activities to your children. They will be eventually exposed to such devices in school. Saving electronic entertainment until then helps them to put it in its place as one of many sources of learning and stimulation, rather than the only one.

Because playing and succeeding in a video game can create a temporary sense of accomplishment, children should be encouraged to pick up an interest or hobby they can master and through which they can gain that sense of accomplishment in a more lasting and significant way. Also, support your children in cultivating friendships and in developing a strong support network of family and friends.

Although parents need to supervise their children’s online activities, it is not possible for them to be constantly looking over each child’s shoulder, especially with the portability of mobile devices nowadays. Therefore, it is crucial that you devote much effort in inculcating values such as responsibility and resilience through modelling, teachable moments, sharing of own personal experiences, and reinforcing the right behaviour.

14326317_xl3.      Set clear boundaries and enforce consequences.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of two hours of screen (TV, computer, tablet, mobile, etc) time per day for children older than two years. Media programmes should be non-violent and educational, and all media consumption should be supervised by a responsible adult. In Singapore, it is not uncommon for children to exceed such a time quota simply because they are often multi-tasking on their computer – doing homework, ‘Facebooking’, watching YouTube videos, and playing games.

Rather than fixing on a specific time limit, parents can consider setting rules such as completing homework and household chores before gaming, or no gaming or mobile use during mealtimes. Once rules are agreed upon, be consistent in enforcing consequences, so those rules will be effective.

Parental control software is helpful if you have young children or are unable to effectively supervise your child’s online activities. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Singapore have their own parental control software packages, and you can enquire more about them with your respective ISP. Alternatively, you can use Windows Life Family Safety, a free, downloadable software with useful features.

4.      Address your child’s difficulties and get professional help if needed.

Excessive video gaming can be a way for the child to escape from difficulties in real life. It is not unusual to find children suffering from mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, turn to video games as a form of self-medication. Not every child who spends long hours gaming is actually addicted, and knowing the difference is extremely helpful. Rather than immediately removing the video games which they are using to cope with their problems, you should focus first on getting your children treated on such mental health issues. Professional help can be found at the psychological departments at our general hospitals.

Children could also be struggling to cope with difficulties at home, such as breakdown in their parents’ marital relationship, or parent-child or sibling conflicts. They could also be facing pressure in school and struggling to cope with studies, loneliness or bullies.

Parents would do well to help their children address these issues first. Family therapists at neighbourhood family service centres and school counsellors would be great sources of help.

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For more information and helpful advice on videogame addiction and gaming in general, pick up Ray Chua’s book ‘Virtual Realms, Real Needs: How to Guide Your Children in a World of Videogames’, available directly from Armour Publishing or, alternatively, Kinokuniya Book Store, Popular Bookstore, and Singapore Baptist Bookstore. Ray is also available to conduct workshops for parents to provide them with hands-on strategies in guiding their children’s videogaming hobby. You can contact him at raychuaconsult@gmail.com.
Posted by ezyhealth on Apr 4 2014. Filed under 20s and Below. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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