Kids game, while parents frown. There is a gap between these diametric responses of parent and child to gaming. Our end objective in mitigating this gap is not to swing to one or the other side but to meet in the gap, where the focus is no longer on games but on each other.
“And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Malachi 4:6 ESV.
In 2020, our COMEBACK team’s survey of about 2,700 Secondary School students found that roughly 1 in 5 of them exhibited some level of game dependency.1 At SOOS OIO and COMEBACK, we prefer the term “game dependency” rather than “game addiction” as it is a more accurate description of the underlying psychological states driving gaming behaviour. “Dependent” means reliant for support and implies that there are underlying conditions which lead to the need for such support. To understand game dependency, we need to examine the motivations of gamers. At COMEBACK, we differentiate the four gamer-player types to break down the motivations namely: Achievers, Gurus, Explorers and Socialisers.2 I will not go into the details of the types of gamers here but look instead at the relationship between the parent and the child who games.
The draw of games
What makes games so attractive to gamers? Accessibility, multiplayer interactions, pulsating action, appealing aesthetics, rewards, and many more factors combine to form an almost irresistible presence that has invaded our youth culture. While the razzle-dazzle of games is fascinating, their power to dominate draws from the needs of the gamers. Great entertainment and a place to hang out with friends—at its core, a game is akin to a playground.
But danger lurks in a playground, even as it offers fun and excitement. There are possibilities of falling and getting hurt, encountering dubious strangers, and bullying. Yet, families and children still swarm playgrounds because the dangers can be managed and mitigated. The most common challenge for parents at the playground is not the dangers, but getting the child to end the session, especially when they are having a great time. By the same token, the most common struggle for parents about video gaming is getting the children to put down their devices.
So, the problem is not the games per se but the transition out of enjoyment that parents need to address. The immersive nature of video games does make some parents feel that they are battling with the games over their child. However, while games may seem to be the enemy, the real issue can be as basic as the exercise of self-control, which most children need to learn, and work to strengthen over time.
What can parents do?
Introduce video games to your young children the same way you would introduce them to a physical playground. You spot potential hazards, and caution your child. You hold their hands or even carry them away from danger if necessary. From you, your child learns how to play safely in the playground. Note that the emphasis is not on setting a time limit for play, but on the presence of the parent to provide guidance and safety. Finally, your child follows as you transit together out of the game.
As your child learns to assess the dangers and how to take care of themselves in gaming, allow them to play more independently. This is where setting boundaries is important, so that they play within a safe and reasonable space. The child applies on their own what they have learnt from you on transiting out, with some reminders.
If the parent-child relationship is healthy and tight, getting the child to transit out of their gaming may be challenging, but not impossible. But if the rope that links parent and child is thin and weak, a strong tug to pull the child up or out of a situation might snap the rope. This is the scenario we want to avoid.
It might be helpful to recall our own teenage years when we struggled to obey our parents. The emotional turmoil within a young person can be very intense, and sometimes explosive. A strong parent-child bond coupled with a firm and sensitive approach is needed to navigate through the gap I alluded to above.
The push factors
The assumption that gaming is the only factor pulling our child away from reality is what often creates a wall between the parent and child. In fact, there are also many possible push factors that drive them towards gaming. Gaming is used as a mechanism to cope with the pressures of life and psychological distresses such as anxiety, fears, hurt and sadness, just as a painkiller provides a short relief for physical pain. Parents need to be discerning and not add on to these push factors, or even become one of the push factors themselves. As difficult and personal as it can be, parents must constantly self-evaluate as their child’s needs change with their different seasons of growth.
A strong relationship enables the parent to address unseen psychological push factors like anxiety, fears and stress, to name just a few. When the push factors are dealt with, it is easier for the child to break free from the pull of gaming.
The parents’ fight
Parents: Remember, your fight is not against games. Your fight is for your child. Fight to get past the surface behaviours to help them through their inner struggles, which sometimes they themselves are not yet able to identify and articulate. No matter what, love them unconditionally, as God loves you. Look beyond the games to find your child in the gap. Persist in your prayers. If you feel overwhelmed, reach out to parent support groups, seek pastoral care or even professional help if necessary.
1 https://www.comeback.world/category/reports/. Read more at https://www.comeback.world/2022/05/14/what-is-gaming-addiction/
2 https://www.comeback.world/2020/05/14/gaming-or-studies-motivations-of-an-achiever/ and https://www.comeback.world/2020/11/06/conversations-with-the-four-player-types/
She worships at Cornerstone Community Church.