Welcome to CheckPointParents on Gaming
The world of tech and video games can be an incredibly daunting place for parents.
Kids now have access to an entire universe of information and media that even twenty years ago seemed impossible, and, somehow, their parents are tasked with managing that!
On the one hand, the media has largely been portraying video games as pretty terrible, and blaming all sorts of hideous crimes on them. Then there’s the worry about addiction, which is just starting to emerge.
On the other, gaming is a huge, normal part of young people’s lives now. Technology can’t be avoided, and is going to increasingly become vital to use; in the future more than 50% of jobs will need computer skills! Limiting screen time might actually be causing a disadvantage.
And then there’s the benefits:
Moderate amounts of play are linked to improvements in mood, emotional regulation, reduced stress and anxiety, improved creativity, boosts in vitality, social benefits, better relationships, relaxation and heaps more (sources).
So how do you know what to do when everybody seems to be telling you a different thing? How do you regulate your children’s game time without stunting their future opportunities or removing a beneficial activity?
Welcome to CheckPointParents on Gaming
A Guide for Parents, Written by Parents
CheckPoint is run by three non-parents. Two of us are doctors, but by no means do we believe we should pathologise or medicalise the perfectly normal process of raising children. Instead, we asked real life parents how they approach this topic, and gathered their knowledge here.
Parenting is a series of personal choices and preferences – no one can tell you how to do it, or what is the “right” way. Instead, we’ve collected a variety of different opinions to offer some balanced perspectives on options parents might consider when approaching game time for their kids.
We’ve tried to make it accessible to as many parents as possible, so much of it might feel a bit basic for the more tech-savvy. Feel free to skip down to relevant sections.
Not sure what your kids are going on about when they talk about games? Is it hard to adequately control or discuss the topic because of all the lingo? Check out this list of terms and get a better understanding of the world of tech and gaming.
Some Popular Games
It’s not possible to list every single game that your children might play, as there are just so many out there. Some are great, family-friendly, and could be considered very safe by most. Others are probably less clear-cut, and it is entirely a parental decision over which games to allow their children to play.
If your child is interested in a game that isn’t listed here, try YouTube or Common Sense Media.
Parents Answer Your FAQs
The top 7 questions we get from parents, answered by parents.
- How much is too much?
- How do you ensure your child balances game time with other responsibilities?
- How do you decide which games to let them play?
- Parental controls: What are they? Do they work? How do you use them?
- What are your opinions about your child’s wellbeing and its relationship with gaming?
- What positives have you observed through your child’s gaming?
- Do you use gaming to bond with/socialise with your child?
Lance: 3 daughters all under age 6
Matt: One daughter
Amy: 4 daughters and one son, all under age 7
Seamus: 11yo and 9yo
Josh: 5yo daughter
Murray: 6yo and 8yo
Andy: 3yo daughter
Nicole: 4 daughters ages 9 – 25
Vee: 7yo daughter
Jac: 9yo son
Jan: 12yo son
Keir: 3 kids, 8, 4, and 1
Sarah and Jane M
Sarah: I don’t exactly have a time limit on her but I see video games as more stimulating than Netflix, and I would rather her have an hour or two of that than to have her watch Dinotrux for the umpteenth time.
Jane M: No set screen time rules. I dislike the term screen time because it’s not very useful at this point in time and so heavily tied to moral panic discourse.
Having said that, “too much” is definitely a thing. But entirely dependent on so many factors both situational (child tired; needs to go out/do homework/use some major muscle groups/arguments in Minecraft getting out of hand) and more consistent (like how families place different value on different cultural pursuits – social class might be a factor).
It’s a play-it-by-ear kind of thing for us. When I’ve decided mine need to move on to something else I’ll usually first try to “sell” the alternative activity and hope that they voluntarily move on.
If that doesn’t work I ask what they’re currently doing in-game and what they want to finish before stopping. If that good authoritative stuff doesn’t work I usually end up deciding myself when a good save point is then tell them firmly to get off it. That doesn’t happen too often (honestly!) but I reckon is probably reality at least some of the time in most households.
Josh: I generally try to restrict it to 30 minutes at the most and try to avoid games that have anything resembling an addictive reward loop.
Andy: We limit my 3 year old’s TV time but not her game time (on ipad). Her games are all learning tools, and she self regulates with them very well, as opposed to TV, which she would watch forever if she could.
Amy: Basically we try to make sure that they are participating in a range of activities, not just TV/computer, but things like board games, imaginative play etc. And if they have more than about 2 hrs in a day of TV/computer then they get super grumpy afterwards, so we usually keep it less than that. I think kids are pretty variable in how they respond and limits. For my kids, it usually ends up being 1-2 hrs TV/day, and computer games a few times a month, just because it usually only happens when [my husband]’s home.
I usually say if they whinge too much when I say time’s up, then we take a break from screens for a few days. That usually gets them stopping nicely!
Seamus: We have two kids, 11 and 9, and they have different vibes around self-regulation. Our daughter is very good at deciding she’s had enough and wants to do off-screen stuff for a while, while our son would play until his eyes bleed.
We tweak our rules regularly and have conversations with the kids about it when we do. We’ll declare screen free days – with notice – so they can mentally prepare for a day without games and they can plan other things they’re going to do (it’s been school holidays, so killing time is a big thing right now).
On the fundamental “How much is too much?” we see our son get irritable and a bit too emotionally hyped up if he’s been playing for too long. This ties in with his desire to play games that demand heavy focus to succeed. We try to help him notice the association between his emotions after games and the games he was playing so he can pick up on those cues himself.
Keir: Games are lumped in with all forms of “screen time”.
We don’t really have any fixed rules about what is too much, but more the 2 hours would be unusual.
Jac: I find that we see a sense of entitlement come out in his behaviour when he spends too much time gaming. This is how we came to a schedule. Trial and error.
How do you put limits on game time? How do you ensure your child balances game time with other responsibilities?
Lance: The kids don’t get free reign of video games, so we just say “no” if they ask to play but they haven’t done something else more important first (like finishing their food, cleaning up, or behaving well enough to justify time to play games). Video games are only available in the family rooms, or in our closed-off studio, which they can’t access without permission and supervision. They can’t sneak off to a room and play without us knowing about ir or anything like that.
Vee: If it’s during term time, then really the tasks in hand limit her time. After school, we have tennis or her hip hop dance class, meals, homework, piano practice all to get through (as well as her tidying up her things) so it all tends to balance out.
Now, closely related: I have all but banned Kids YouTube. I don’t like banning things, but the way that thing just keeps serving up videos, advertising content and such and it’s usually of such a poor quality- I have just had enough. Also she gets stuck, and then is normally agitated or worse when we are trying to get her off the device she was watching on. No more. We don’t need that in our lives.
Jane M: Sometimes there isn’t the balance I’d ideally like. Say, in the middle of winter when everyone’s sick and outdoors isn’t so appealing. Sometimes I’m just tired. But in the scheme of things I’m OK with getting this “wrong” occasionally. Pick your battles!
Amy: We say no screens before lunch (except on odd occasion). Limit time. Sometimes will be something like “you can turn it on after you’ve tidied up, spend another 10 mins with your paintings, after you’ve played outside” etc.
Seamus: Our most common routine in school time is they get iPad time in the morning when all their jobs are done and they’re ready for school. No games in the afternoons until the weekend. And then a budget of a couple of hours that they can spread across a few sessions if they want to. They typically set timers so they get an alarm for themselves and that’s part of the trust dynamic we’re building around it too – if we can see them self regulating based on their budget, they’re more likely to get more time in future.
So ultimately our enforcement comes down to building a relationship. With our kids, and with them and their games, and it’s an ongoing conversation. We’ve had the occasional ban due to ‘forgetting’ to tell us about school assignments or other things that they should have been working on but ended up playing games instead. Our position is that they have to remember to treat school as their ‘job’ as kids, and so they have to put that first and games only come after they’re doing a good job on that.
Keir: Enforcement is just talking about where they are upto and negotiating a good point to stop, end of level, save point etc. The consequences of not stopping at the agreed time is no screen time next time they ask.
Other responsibilities are higher priority than game time. Screen time is a treat that is negotiated for.
Jac: We enforce the rules by making all gaming a learning experience that includes info about why we do things in certain ways to grow his brand and audience.
Plus we ensure that homework is done before freeplay on weekdays and room is clean before freeplay on weekends.
Vee: It’s really on the parents to be mindful of what content their children are consuming. I’m not going to let her play Bloodborne… But she probably wouldn’t want to anyway.
Jac: With max being an only child living in a gaming household (neon lights gaming) he has seen more games than he’s allowed to play. We draw the line at no realistic shooters… so no pubg/fortnite/cod/csgo etc. Overwatch, paladins is the top limit.
Sarah: I let her play “inappropriate” games all the time, and often let her watch games that aren’t suited to her age. I wouldn’t let her watch me play Wolfenstein, but she watches me play Fallout. She plays Skyrim, Horizon Zero Dawn and Assassins Creed, but with those prefers the exploration aspect over the fighting, and it’s an even divide on whether she hands the controller to me for fights, gives it a go herself, or runs away.
Jane M: The eldest (10 year old) will often come to me with requests for games he’s seen reviewed on YouTube. I will watch the video then check out the reviews on Common Sense Media. What he is allowed to play is dependent as much on cost and computer storage space as it is about concern regarding content.
He plays Skyrim and Fallout 4 which he’s technically not meant to. We play together sometimes and he always plays at the dining table or in the middle of the lounge with screen shared to TV so we all have to watch!
The younger two just play whatever is on their iPads – so games bought on the family account. Kind of like hand-me-downs. They also played a bit of Overwatch which I decided to allow but maybe shouldn’t have. They’ve lost interest now though.
Josh: Generally, at age 5-6, I’ve been encouraging games that have some kind of educational and/or brain-usage value. Toca Boca games, Loopimal/Bandimal, Vectorpark’s stuff, and before she could read, games specifically for teaching the alphabet or phonetics. No Minecraft, no Angry Birds, nothing that’s strictly a game just yet.
Amy: We have pretty sensitive kids, and they get a lot of nightmares from TV shows etc. So with games, I can usually predict what they will find scary. And if they’re playing something and anyone complains of it being scary, it goes off. Aim for very low levels of violence at this age.
Seamus: We’ve followed ratings guidelines pretty closely through the earlier years and now both our kids will have some access to blue M games, depending on themes. They know to check with us on anything they’re not sure of and we try to be well across everything they’re playing.
Online play is a big concern. We avoid anything that has chat systems as a very overt part of the setup. Anything that still includes such options we’ve had big conversations about just not talking to people they don’t know online yet. So there are a handful of games they’re allowed to play that have such features, they just know to ignore it for the most part.
We’ve had discussions about foul language (and that they’re useful words when used sparingly and in appropriate company) so we know they’re not seeing anything that would shock them even if they did see the odd salty word.
We also have a policy that if our son (11) is over at a friend’s house and somehow they’re going to play an MA15+ game, we’re OK with him staying in the social mix with his friends rather than feeling like he’d have to leave. It’s not ideal, but we also know that his grasp of the fact it’s not meant to be appropriate will guide him through the situation because he’s a super good kid. AND if he actually doesn’t want to play or watch whatever his friend’s decided they want to do, he can use us as the excuse to leave and just blame us for not letting him do it.
Keir: “Would I play that game?” Research what content is in the game and understand how it works. Recommend games they might like. Let them help play my games. I want them playing games that have positive interactions.
Lance: Their PSN [PlayStation Network] account won’t let them play online if a game is rated >G. Journey works on the PS4 but other games say “You don’t have permission to play online”. It’s just automatic based on the age on their PSN account. We just watch what the kids do and control them actively without tools.
They’re not exposed to YouTube (we only use YT Kids in our house or sometimes let the oldest watch Game Sack on my PC because it has extremely tame language) and online gaming culture. We mostly keep our consoles disconnected from the internet these days and just play all our games offline.
Matt: My daughter plays a LOT of games really. but then I get the weekly report from Microsoft and I’m like “oh that was less than I thought”. I hated being taken away from the computer when I was younger and every second I spent away due to television appropriation or travelling away I mostly resented.
I remember also hardly ever getting treats like Coke and burgers, so – when I had the chance – I would drink and eat as much as I could. Starvation of the thing you want can make obsession worse.
She did feel a bit lonely in her hobby (as socialization in games is tightly controlled by us – and by Blizzard) so we started her YouTube channel and she really enjoyed that.
Sarah: I don’t bother with parental controls at this point. A huge part of everything that I do comes down to communication. My daughter and I talk a lot. About everything. She has a very inquisitive mind and takes on concepts that a lot of parents seem to brush off as being “too young”. If she’s old enough to ask, she’s old enough to know.
Jane M: My overarching philosophy is that they need to be taught how to manage risk and exposure to things using their own brains and communication with parents. We have in-app purchases turned off.
Seamus: I do like time trackers that Xbox and Blizzard games offer. I get reports that say how long they did stuff for at the end of the week. There’s nothing crazy in there. In one respect I try to encourage them to diversify their gameplay and to try new stuff, so if I see they’re always playing the same stuff I’ll remind them of previously stated intentions to try something that they never seemed to get around to.
Keir: I use them to lock down IAP and on console do rating level filtering. So they can’t accidentally launch a M rated game.
We also have the gaming devices in the lounge.
Seamus: They get an amazing sense of achievement around completing games, puzzles, tasks, builds, all sorts of experiences through games that just wouldn’t be as accessible if we had to find real world analogues for such things. We try to make a big deal of their successes in games and we ask them about how they feel about the skills they’re building through the games they’re playing.
We do try to encourage them to not just play games only for the sake of ‘distraction’ but to set goals within games and chase them down. And when we see them do that we make a big deal about it so they can see they’re getting positive real world feedback when they do awesome stuff in their games.
Keir: How my kids are feeling after a gaming session is the most important feedback. If the kid is irritable and grumpy or short tempered after playing it’s a sign that they were playing too long.
Games are really powerful feedback loops. We need to be very active to make sure they are positive loops.
Lance: Fun and happiness, and wanting to engage in creative culture around gaming, such as creating YouTube videos and a YouTube channel. The kids always want to go into the studio and record videos of themselves playing games.
Murray: It’s the exercising imagination, procedural thinking, numeracy development and literacy development that I like. Also very recently the 8y old has taken up coding games which is helping developing logical thinking and problem solving.
Sarah: Games are packed full of problem solving, patience testing, coordination, teamwork (some), critical thinking, and storytelling.
Andy: She’s played Metamorphabet, Windowsill, Endless Letters, Endless Numbers, a bunch of Sago mini games, and a few Daniel Tiger games. She was very early learning her letters due to Metamorphabet, so I view that as a purely positive experience.
Seamus: We encourage the kids to search the web for solutions to problems they’re having in games. So they’re starting to get good at finding game wikis and read up on intricacies of the games they like. We never want it to be a first-resort, that they should try to solve problems themselves first. But with that in mind we think games are giving them great motivation to learn how to use the web effectively for research!
We’re also seeing them fall in love with esports and see that deep dedication to games can lead people to great success on an international stage. It’s great seeing esports become more prominent at the moment and see this thing they love get more and more recognition in the public sphere.
Our son also has a friend who moved to Canberra and through Steam they’ve been able to stay in touch and play games together. It’s been a great moment for him to see how games can help you stay connected and have fun with friends who you can’t easily see in person anymore.
Keir: Common points of reference for discussions and bonding. Inspiration for stories and art works. More thought about how systems work. An interest is building games both digital and physical.
Jac: Creativity, business sense, problem solving, networking, a natural ability with marketing and a really positive mum/ son relationship
Jan: Perseverance skills that games may encourage in children. The disposition of resilience may be supported as the games require levels of persistence and do not deliver instant gratification.
Josh: I spent 120+ hours playing Legend of Zelda BotW, and I’d guess my daughter watched me play at least 20 of those hours (not all at once :)). I wanted to introduce her to a game w/a lot of thought involved, fairly simple graphics, minimal violence, etc. She loved watching me play, though she didn’t like seeing Link get hurt and urged me to avoid combat all the time (‘but daddy wants that treasure chest, sweetie’). She actually helped me solve a number of shrine puzzles that I was stuck on. 🙂 It was something to see her watch me play, observe the rules of the world, and come up with solutions on her own. Best part, though, was when she wasn’t able to watch, if I got to a major moment, I’d take screenshots, then play them back for her as a slideshow and tell her what she’d missed. Probably one of my favorite gaming moments though.
Andy: At first we only played with her to help guide her experience, but now she’s old enough to play on her own as well. Watching her figure out the puzzles in Windowsill and then take such tremendous pride in her accomplishments has been great.
I also have played a fair amount of Zelda Breath of the Wild with her, I let her push the buttons whenever there’s an action she can do like opening chests or entering shrines. Zelda has led to some amazing role play with her when we go to the park (finding shrines, statues, getting hearts, fighting monsters, riding horses, etc). I wasn’t sure if the fighting in the game would be a problem — she doesn’t get scared by it, but I didn’t want to set a bad example. She does role-play “hitting” monsters, but it’s pretty limited and she doesn’t show an interest in any other form of fighting, so I’m not too scared.
I have to admit that part of this is that Daddy gets to steal a little “me time” while still having an enriching bonding experience, so I think it’s a win/win.
Seamus: We definitely spend time together around games. Not as often in-game as I’d like, mostly due to my own time constraints, but we do try to spend time watching them play and letting them explain what they’re doing to us. As they start to get to a point where we can play team-based games we’re definitely more and more inclined to bond through competitive play together and it’s great when we do.
Keir: Our whole family in into Minecraft, the 4 year old enjoys it as much as I do.
Jac: Absolutely. This was the most surprising finding! Since beginning our gaming journey in Aug 17, our relationship is at an all time high! It’s common ground… he wants to be a “famous” youtuber…. and I’m able to market his brand. We have fun with it… attend fun events and he has my support with wherever he wants to take this because i know I’m teaching him the “behind the scenes” stuff that will be useful and the strategic reasoning behind it all.
It is completely normal to have concerns about gaming, and to want to keep an eye on your child’s play. It might feel like everybody has different advice, or that no one really knows what’s going on!
You have your child’s best interests in mind, and that’s the important thing. If you are not sure where to start, you could try to consider the following things:
- Does your child play video games with their friends from school, or siblings? This could be a valid and familiar way for them to socialise – they have never known a world without games or the internet.
- Is gaming balanced with family time, homework, school, household rules and chores? Children’s lives benefit from structure, and gaming should be included in this.
- Are they playing the appropriate games? There are rating scales to guide you, but ultimately it is your decision. Try playing their games first, or watching videos of the game on YouTube.
- Could you use games as a way to bond? There are many family and multiplayer games you could try playing together with your child.
- Talk to your kids! Ask them why they play. What do they get out of it? Do they feel sad when they don’t play? Are they using it to forget about other issues like bullying? Games could be used as a positive or negative coping skill and it is important to teach them how to use it.
- Check out ReachOut Australia’s excellent resources about online gaming (and other internet activities).
And, of course, if you are concerned please do visit your doctor!