You’ve probably come across Fortnite if you’re a parent of a teenager or work with teens. In yesterday’s world, the yo-yo and Rubik’s cube were the biggest problem for parents, who begged, “Please, put it down, and eat your meal!” In contrast, today’s parents have children that play Fortnite and similar games, often to the degree that prompts the question “Is my child addicted?”
These concerns are understandable, especially since parents are often not well-versed in digital gaming.
The Head of Learning Area (Technologies) at Wesley College Perth, is Mr Alan Drakesmith. He has a unique perspective on gaming because he is responsible for the teaching of technologies in a school. Mr Drakesmith said that gaming addiction is a complex thing. It’s not as easy as counting the hours someone spends online. It has much more to do with what drives the children to play the games.
Why are kids so passionate about gaming?
- Gaming is structured to ensure success, achievement, and recognition. Based on their skill, players move through the levels of the game. As players progress and overcome obstacles, there is a strong sense that they are capable and have achieved something. Digital gaming allows us to feel accomplished. This is especially appealing to children experiencing low success in other areas of their lives.
- Children find comfort in the portability and consistency of the world that gaming offers. Teens and tweens are at a stage in their lives where there is a lot to change in their lives and their place in the world. They find it refreshing to be in control of their own domain. The stability offered by the game world is a welcome relief for some children with chaotic family lives. While there may be constant changes in their lives, the game world is always consistently safe.
- Gaming allows for the inclusion of many people who feel excluded from mainstream life. Online gaming is anonymous and allows for complete integration. Gaming gives children the chance to feel valued and accepted if they are bullied or otherwise unhappy in their lives. It’s interesting to note that gaming is very loved by people with disabilities, as it allows them to compete on an even playing field.
- Gamers feel a strong sense of community. To overcome obstacles and reach goals, players must work together. Chat functions and message boards for players allow for friendship and community to develop, alongside feelings of belonging and connection. This is what we all desire. This is how gaming communities can meet psychological needs that might not be met elsewhere.
- Gaming is fun. It’s challenging and exciting. The player is a hero. You can expect music, excitement, constant movement, and even colour. Players get endorphins, the ‘feel good hormones’, while playing, and there is constant camaraderie.
Can my child grow addicted to gaming?
Mr Drakesmith states that schools are a reflection of society. It is not surprising that teachers see students who have been playing problematic games. They may observe signs such as trying to bypass the school’s cybersecurity systems in order to access school games, being uncharacteristically moody, aggressive, or a disruption in sleep, concentration, and homework, therefore affecting school performance.
Some gamers spend a lot of time gaming. Parents report that their children can spend up to 18 hours per day gaming on weekends and holidays. We can all agree that these extended gaming sessions are unhealthy psychologically and physically. This also takes away time from other activities and gives you less opportunity to socialise with your family and friends.
James Driver is a New Zealand psychotherapist who has conducted extensive research on gaming addiction. According to him, addictive and problematic gaming begins when gamers need the game for a variety of psychological and social reasons, “Playing to have fun is different than playing to escape from difficult situations or gain a sense or purpose in life.”
Mr Driver says that children who are suffering from social anxiety and have psychological needs that are not being met daily are at the greatest risk of becoming addicted. Mr Driver also identifies students who are intelligent and are good at problem-solving, but are not being challenged in school or through other activities may also be at risk of becoming addicted.
The Perfect Teaching Moment
It is difficult for schools to find effective ways to teach students about the harmful effects of problem gaming. Wesley College Perth found the perfect teaching moment recently through the Year 7 Science course.
Three students, Nicholas Chin, James Timcke and Pratyush Goel, conducted an experiment to examine the physiological effects of the game Fortnite. They looked at random samples of students from different age groups. Before gaming, they measured their heart rate and body temperature. Then they recorded the same data at regular intervals of a minute throughout the game. They measured the level of stimulation a player received and their physiological reactions. They found interesting results.
The boys speculate that physical stimulation may be influenced by personality, rather than whether the subject is a regular player. It is not a conclusive scientific study, but it is a great teaching tool for students and their peers. Their awareness of addiction has been raised and they have begun a productive conversation at the College.
Tips for Parents
- Mr Drakesmith urges parents to “Closely supervise your child’s gaming, and be observant about their behaviour”. Pay attention to any aggression or lack of participation in previous activities. Although it may not be related to gaming, it is worth investigating.
- Learn about the games that your child is playing so you can discuss them with an educated perspective. Have fun with the games. You might even like it!
- When it comes to gaming, children need clear boundaries and consistency. This article outlines some expectations and agreements you might want to make in your family.
- If lack of connection leads to addiction, parents should make sure that their children feel connected, heard, and seen. Children need people who are genuinely interested in them, and spend quality time with them.
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