Please note that much of the good advice in this article is informed by Manoush Zomorodi’s book, Bored and Brilliant.
A recent article we published looked at bad habits, including spending too much time gaming – which met a need for status and accomplishment – a genuine human need. It referenced the work on habits by James Clear – who suggested that many of the habits we adopt in our lives that seem destructive, are linked to one of the basic human needs we need fulfilled.
This is an interesting way of looking at gaming, and may in fact help us have more constructive conversations about gaming with the young people we live and work with.
The fact is, gaming is important to our young people – and it is meeting a real need that perhaps they don’t feel is met in other areas of their lives. After all, many worlds are built around academic, artistic, personal and athletic success – and if you have not found your feet in any of these areas yet, a game can be a great escape and a great way to display skills to others. Gaming is social, it is status – and it is fun. This makes it a very appealing package.
With this in mind, a common strategy of telling young people to “put the game down and do something useful” is not helpful. It doesn’t acknowledge the powerful connection they have to the game, nor the emotional or social gap it may be filling. In fact, this strategy may actually push the young person further into the game – again reinforcing the game itself as one of the few places where they can experience success and be appreciated.
Now is the time where I mention that gaming is not all bad – although it is natural to monitor it. Games are a test of skills – and all skills can be learned and improved upon. In fact, if your child is good at gaming, they have probably become so using some thoughtful strategies and a tremendous amount of grit and determination. If we can make this conscious in your child’s eyes, they can become aware of some personal strengths that might be applied to other areas of their lives, or of some good strategies that might be applicable in other ways too.
Instead, try asking your young person about the game and what they like about it and how they learnt to get better at it. You may learn a lot about the gap they are trying to fill, and what their needs and interests are. What they like about the game may even surprise you and open your eyes to different kinds of interests they have that you didn’t know about. A game set in Ancient Greece for example might actually develop and harness an interest in history and mythology.
Then, try to push past their descriptions of what they actually enjoy or are good at in the game, and find the skill that they utilized. Did they have to show perseverance to work through a difficult level? Did they experiment with different problem solving methods before finding a solution? Did they work with other players to get to a common destination? Your child might learn through this discussion that they work well in teams, or rise to a challenge or have true grit. These are insights you can then praise them for – and remind them that they can apply to other areas – ones they may feel they are less successful in.
You may be making your child more conscious of the strengths and tactics in their arsenal to help them create more confidence and success. They are probably demonstrating some excellent learning strategies! And even a growth mindset! This conversation is also potentially healing if you have been at loggerheads with each other about the gaming for some time.
However this isn’t to suggest that you shouldn’t set limits or monitor your child’s gaming. Firstly, be comfortable with the games that they play – and if they are itching to play a game that you find distasteful, have a conversation about it. At the very least hear each other out – what appeals to your child about the game may surprise you.
Secondly, insist they play with people they know. One of the other dangers of online gaming is that it may put your young person in contact with a possible online predator – whereas playing with friends can have many social and emotional benefits.