Should I be worried my kid is gaming too much?

By: Neil Mitchell

Parents, don’t roll your eyes, but new and ongoing research shows the benefits of playing video games.

As American teens stay at home to help combat the coronavirus, gaming has been a way for them to have fun, but also to connect to the outside world. One week after the quarantine went into effect, U.S. video game usage went up 75 percent, according to Verizon reports. Studies also show that 35% of Gen Z teens have increased their gaming activities, according to Magid’s Covid-19 pulse study. In fact, Gen Z considers the social gaming platform Discord one of the top-four-most-important apps.

While the cliché may be that parents are concerned about video games, the benefits of playing video games are plentiful. Recent developments point to several reasons online games for teens may be an ideal tech option for your kids, which can allow parents to rest a little easier.

1. Gaming designers have partnered with the World Health Organization.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has embraced the gaming industry for its efforts to promote COVID-19 safety practices through its #PlayApartTogether campaign. In addition to gaming’s social distancing advantages, allowing people all over the world to interact digitally, game developers and publishers from Activision to Zynga have pledged to promote additional WHO health guidelines with in-game messaging, such as hand washing and respiratory etiquette. This is especially significant as this contradicts previous WHO concerns over excessive gaming.

2. Educational elements and teacher partnerships are increasing.

Learning at home has resulted in greater recognition of the educational opportunities that could come from playing video games. Minecraft created an Education Edition for educators. Ubisoft allowed some educators free access to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on the Google Stadia platform. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is set in Ancient Greece and contains educational components such as quizzes to help lock in historical knowledge.

3. “Girl gamers” are more likely to study science and tech.

Research in the UK has shown that girls ages 13–14 who are heavy gamers are three times more likely to pursue a degree in STEM.

“Educators seeking to encourage more take up of PSTEM subjects should target girl gamers, as they already may have a natural interest in these subjects,” says Dr. Anesa Hosein, Lecturer in Higher Education and Programme Director of PhD in Higher Education at University of Surrey, and a Physics graduate with a self-confessed 'Geek Girl' gamer past.

4. Parental controls have gotten better.

In terms of safeguards and parental controls, the most popular gaming platforms offer robust options. ESRB game content ratings and the ability to filter by those ratings are standard. And social gaming platforms like Twitch and Discord offer profile settings and options to report abusive behavior. They also offer options for setting spending limits. Restricting access to in-game purchases can help avoid an unwanted surprise when you get your next credit card bill.

When in doubt, get involved

Still not convinced that gaming is good for you? That’s understandable, considering concerns long raised by parents that include the treatment of women in social gaming, violence in games and gaming addiction. For more information, explore the Safer Gaming Guide from the Family Online Safety Institute.

The absolute best recommendation for parents worried about game safety or that your kid is gaming too much: Join your kids on their favorite platform. Being stuck at home could provide an ideal time to explore their gaming life. Have them be your expert guide through some of their favorite games. Doing this can help you gauge the legitimacy of your concerns and what safeguards can be employed to ensure gaming remains a responsible activity in your household.

Is there a gamer in your house? Get up to speed on safety basics, and download the Family Online Safety Institute’s “Unlocking Video Games” in the tools section of Parenting in a Digital World.

About the author(s):

Neil Mitchell is media consultant, focused on digital and online safety. He has been working with Verizon on online safety issues for over a decade.

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