According to annual research conducted by Ofcom, gaming on mobile phones, games consoles, tablets and computers is one of the top activities enjoyed online by 5-16 year-olds. And, while there are certainly benefits to gaming – such as improving hand-eye coordination and problem-solving – there are certain risk factors, too, such as addictive behaviours and online bullying, which affects approximately 12 per cent of young people in the UK, according to the UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC).
For parents of older children, the impact of gaming can present challenges. Rachael, a mother from London, has a 16-year-old gaming-obsessed son who also has ADHD. When he started playing online games at the age of 11, he would often become angry and aggressive when a game didn’t go his way.
“The situation became terrible,” Rachael says. “He had a tendency of throwing, banging or hitting things when he got frustrated.” Sports-related gaming was even worse. “Boys go mad on it,” she says. “It’s also so addictive and can cost lots if players start buying things on it.”
UKSIC says it’s important that parents are aware of chat functions on online games, which allows gamers to communicate with other players. This can happen via open chat boxes where comments can be typed, while others may only allow a gamer to select from set phrases. Many games also allow public chats where players interact.
“Online bullying can happen in games as well as on social media or messaging apps,” it states on its website. “It could be through unkind comments or messages, or by targeting other players within a game. Most games have reporting and blocking features, which can be used to support a young person who is being bullied online.”
While Rachael found it difficult to control her son’s gaming habit or the way it made him feel at first, she soon started to develop tactics. “We started to put tighter controls on his playtime by keeping the PlayStation in our bedroom, as I also discovered he was playing with people I didn’t know,” she says. Also in quieter moments, Rachael would talk to her son about how it made him feel, and the anger and frustration he was experiencing. “We managed to work through it eventually.”
So, what should you do if you’re facing something similar with your own child? UKSIC recommends talking with your child to discover what they enjoy most about gaming, to understand what makes it so attractive. Focus on the positives of gaming in moderation, rather than brandishing the hobby as a bad habit. For instance, did you know research published by USIC shows that 74 per cent of young people say online gaming can teach them important skills such as concentration, teamwork, and problem-solving?
What’s more, if you’re a gaming novice, it’s a good idea to brush up on your knowledge. The UKSIC website offers detailed instructions on the capabilities of games and consoles such as Roblox and Nintendo, which can be helpful when engaging in any discussions about them with your children. You can also contact your internet provider to find out more about the products they offer to make gaming better and safer, such as WI-FI and parental controls.
Enjoy safer gaming with EE
If you’re looking for ways to make gaming better and safer for your children and teens, EE is on hand to help.
Wondering how to quickly determine how child-safe a game is? EE’s new GameSmart website reviews 50 popular console games. Each game is given a rating, so parents and carers can decide how suitable they are for their children.
There are a host of tech-powered solutions to help too. Use EE’s Wi-Fi controls to pause or freeze connection at set times of day – such as bedtimes or when your children know they need to have time away from screens. You can also use this function to add content filters and extra parental controls, and organise the devices on your Wi-Fi into groups such as ‘Kids’.
If you’re giving your children set times to enjoy gaming, you’ll want their experience to be as good as possible. Game mode can be accessed by clicking on the toggle within the EE app, which allows you to access settings such as the ‘Ping Optimiser’ that prevents lags and optimises game play. The Wi-Fi enhancer also prioritises network traffic to ensure gaming sessions run smoothly, and extra preferences can also be set using the Geo Filter. This will lock in your best server location while blocking laggy servers.