Avoiding tech tantrums

Kids love playing video games but the resulting “tech tantrums” can be anything but lovely! DEBORAH WARD looks at why online gaming can be addictive and how we can help our kids play without getting hooked.

Online video games have never been so popular. More than 200 million people around the world are playing Fortnite, including prominent athletes and other celebrities so there is little wonder that adolescents find the free multiplayer game so appealing.

However, many parents are concerned that their children might be becoming too absorbed in Fortnite and child behavioural specialist Lorrine Marer thinks they are right to be worried. Marer compares the game to heroin. But this seems a little extreme; is an online game really as harmful as a drug?

Online gaming addiction is a very real problem. In 2018, the World Health Organisation recognised gaming disorder as a disease for the first time. However, the WHO also stresses that, while digital games are hugely popular, only a small percentage of gamers could be classified as having the disorder.

Offering some reassurance to parents, Attitude senior presenter Christian Gallen points out that we need to step back and examine “the stereotype of the socially isolated video game nerd”. Online gaming is often a collective experience where multiple players work together and in the process, learn “skills in leadership, teamwork and problem-solving”.

Gallen also stresses, though, that we need to stay involved in our children’s gaming, just as much as we need to take an interest in other aspects of their lives. This remains just as important as our kids navigate their way through their teenage years.

Psychologist Kimberly Young points out that games are aimed at young people and this makes them particularly vulnerable to addiction. Thirty years ago, video games such as Pac-Man were relatively straightforward. Now, though, games have evolved into “living, self-contained, three-dimensional societies”. Players can become completely absorbed in the game and their perceptions of fantasy and reality can become blurred.

Another challenging aspect of today’s multiplayer games is that they never stop. It can become distressing when a player has to switch off because the game will continue without them. Fortnite operates in rounds of approximately 20 minutes and Gallen suggests that as an alternative to saying, “five more minutes,” we might allow our kids to play two more rounds and then they must leave the game.

James Driver from Net Addiction NZ offers parents valuable advice about setting clear and manageable boundaries around online activity for children. Driver’s website netaddiction.co.nz points out that parents must model the technology habits they want to see from their children, this can be a confronting challenge for some of us.

Above all, Driver states that we should approach our kids with an attitude of concern rather than criticism. If we show a genuine interest and really listen to them, involving them in the boundary setting process, and giving them time and space to make positive changes, they are more likely to try and stick to the rules and to come to us with their own worries.

Yes, Fortnite and other digital games can be addictive for our kids but if we remain involved, modelling positive behaviour with our own screens and helping our children to manage their online gaming, we are more likely to help them to have fun and avoid tech tantrums altogether.

Top Tips for Parents from netaddiction.co.nz

  • Model appropriate use of technology
  • Be willing to talk and listen
  • Set realistic, firm boundaries
  • Be consistent
  • Provide and support alternatives to gaming
  • Be concerned but don’t criticise