We all know gaming is here to stay, but how can we improve family dynamics around gaming and boundaries? Wee-Yeong of Make It On My Own explains.

Picture this – muffled screams from a closed room, dishes going missing from the kitchen and food disappearing from your pantry.  No, you don’t have an intruder in your house, you have a teenager that constantly plays online games.

In seriousness, it’s not always like that. But many parents do think that gaming is the enemy. And as a father of a teenager and a tween I am certainly familiar with this territory. Yes, gaming is a global phenomenon – with the businesses behind the games making hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Current thinking is to focus on how gaming can help our kids, and if there is a problem, to look at underlying struggles our young people have and focus on building our relationship with them. After all, gaming might just be their band aid.

Is gaming ruining my teen’s life?

Of course parents are concerned for their teen’s wellbeing – social, mental and physical – and mindful about the impact that gaming may have on their teenager’s education. In “The Hard Stuff with Nigel Latta – Screenagers”, Nigel explains, “the thing about technology and the internet is that it’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing. But there are both good and bad things that can come from it.”

From years of mentoring teenagers, I agree with this  and would assert that gaming is not the enemy. Gen-Z (teenagers) and Gen-Alpha (tweens and younger) are digital natives. They have not known a world without screens, in fact many parents have used screens from time to time as a babysitter. Guilty!

As with everything, there is good and bad that can come from it. Gaming is an ecosystem that utilises technology that will lead towards the future of the workplace, so the skills they develop now will come in handy. In addition, through gaming teenagers can learn resilience (persisting with a difficult game), goal-setting (yes, they can become competitive), team work, problem solving and many other soft skills that are not taught at school.

Coach them

The teenage years are a strange and unsettling season for both teens and their family. Biologically, hormones are raging and their prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls rational thinking and decision making) is still being developed. So, teens need their parents or guardians to guide them. This can only be achieved through a strong relationship and trust.

One of the shifts in parenting style we’re seeing is a shift from parent-child to parent/coach-child. What does that mean? It’s a shift in parents’ language and posture. Going from “telling” to “coaching” can happen by replacing phrases such as, “You must/should/need to…” with “What do you think…”, “Why would you…”. It’s about respecting each child’s right to make decisions and to encourage them to initiate and direct their own learning.

Many schools are redesigning their curriculum to foster this. But in terms of parenting, providing opportunities for your teenagers to make decisions will increase their confidence, strengthen their trust with you and teach them skills that will help them to mature and become independent.  Give it a go – you will be surprised at how it will change the dynamic of your relationship with your teen.

Come to an agreement

At Making it on my Own (MIOMO), we have a “gaming agreement” that facilitates a discussion between parents and their teens. It guides a two-way conversation between parent and teenager on expectations surrounding their consumption of games – including discussions around acceptable behaviour and responsibilities (financial, chores, homework). This tool has resulted in many great conversations and improvements in family dynamics for those who have used it.

Another thing that will improve your relationship with your teen is to show an interest in their lifestyle. Ask questions about their games, watch them play (just for a bit) and celebrate with them when they do well. My sons love to tell me about their games; their progress, the friends they have made, and the annoying people that have beaten them in a game. This has allowed me to have coaching conversations with them on how they respond to a loss, foul language and how to control their emotions so they can stay calm to win their game.

The key with relating to your teen is to keep the communication lines open, involve them in decision making pertaining to their lives and coach them when the opportunity presents itself. 

When gaming is not the problem…

A 23-year-old university student I was mentoring recounted to me the story of how he ran away from home at 13 due to the strife gaming was causing at home between him and his parents. As a social outsider at school, he was from a minority culture and wasn’t sporty or academic like many of his schoolmates. He would run home every day as soon as the bell rang to jump into his “safe space” – his virtual world was the only place on earth where he felt loved, accepted and competent. And he was also an exceptional gamer. When his parents began to switch off the modem just to get him off the game, they (unknowingly) communicated to him that they wanted to take away the only thing that made him feel normal. Heart breaking, right?

Sometimes, the underlying reason our young people game is not what we think, when in actual fact it could actually be helpful to them.

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