Pay attention to your
instincts. If you think gaming
is negatively affecting your
child, it’s time to step in
improve their language skills and learn
about narrative development.
“However, if a child is already
experiencing some mental health
stressors, then there is an increased
risk that video games could become a
problem,” Houtekamer says.
Kids who are socially isolated in the
real world often find it easier to form
friendships online. But more time spent
online can translate into fewer real-world
opportunities to sharpen social skills, and
so the isolation increases. “It can become
a maladaptive cycle,” Houtekamer says.
Parents can watch for signs that may
indicate problems are developing: mood
swings, social withdrawal, a decline in
hygiene, increased conflict, impaired
sleep or lying about schoolwork.
“Sometimes these are just a normal
part of adolescence, but pay attention
to your instincts. If you think gaming is
impacting your child’s emotional well-being or some other area of their life,
it’s time to step in,” Houtekamer says.
Those with attention deficit issues or who
show signs of inappropriate aggression
might also be at risk for developing an
addiction to gaming, she says.
The younger the child, the easier it will
be to establish—and stick with—limits on
gaming. However, even with clear family
rules, parents can feel overmatched;
they’re up against a multibillion-dollar
industry that has perfected ways to keep
their children locked onto their screens.
One of the best things parents can
do is to set a good example themselves
by limiting the amount of time they’re
focused on their own screens.
“When parents are glued to their
devices, it sends a message that the
behaviour is normal and acceptable. It
becomes much harder to enforce limits,”
Balance is key. Children need
meaningful opportunities to engage in
real-world pursuits away from screens.
Participating in sports, family activities
or volunteering helps kids stretch their
wings and grow. The virtual world will
still be there when they get back.
As always, parents with concerns can
talk to their family doctor or contact their
local mental health office.
Call the Mental Health Helpline at
1-877-303-2642 or Health Link at 811 for
TIPS ON MANAGING
Appropriate daily limits for a child’s
digital media consumption depend on
the individual, their age, and their family,
but establishing priorities, such as
homework, chores and sleep, will help
regulate the time available for screens.
Parents can also:
• Keep screens out of bedrooms
where they can interfere with
• Establish a media curfew before
• Make meal times media free
• Enforce regular screen breaks.
Staying on top of the gaming
activities your child is involved in can be
a good way to keep the dialogue open.
What aspects of a given game do they
like the most, or the least? A sense of
belonging, mastery or feeling of control
are all aspects that might be appealing.
Finding real-world opportunities to
duplicate those feelings is a good way
to create balance.
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