10 Online Gaming and Screen Use Guidelines for Parents
Dr. Diana Yang, L.Ac., DACM, Former Video Game Addict
Overlooking Yosemite Valley from the Top of Half Dome. Photography by Diana Yang.
Disclaimer: Every situation is unique. These are just possible guidelines for your consideration. They may or may not apply to you. No part of this article is medical advice. Please use your discretion and common sense. When in doubt, seek help from your own medical professional--not from this blog post.
While screen addiction is still undergoing the process of securing acknowledgment in academic circles, parents are openly struggling with it. At the time of writing, there is no official rubric to address the issue. Below are a few guidelines we have found to be effective for parents to consider:
1. Acknowledge Yourself as the Parent
Every child and situation is unique. It is beneficial to look to experts for advice, but at the end of the day, feel confident in the fact that you are the parent. You know your child and situation more personally than any expert. You are in a great position to address the issue. Look for ideas from others, but remember to find confidence in yourself and your parental instincts.
2. Do Not Panic
It can be stressful for a child when a parent panics. You are rightfully your child’s safety net. If a child senses that the parent cannot handle a situation, the child seeks comfort somewhere else. That comfort can be found in video games or social media. Both are very effective by design to temporarily drown out worries. Additionally, a parent’s panic can contribute to guilt, which can cause damage to the relationship in the long run. With that said:
3. Avoid Using Guilt
Games are designed to keep players playing. Young children and young adults cannot be blamed for lacking impulse control to regulate themselves. It is not always the child’s fault if the child does not voluntarily stop. A child may not always remember the cause of an argument, but will remember feelings of guilt and blame associated. Guilt can cause deeper-rooted issues down the line, long after arguments are resolved.
An upcoming article here will have a list of phrases to avoid using with problematic screen users.
4. Listen to Your Child
Often something is happening beyond excessive video gaming or screen use. Your child could have confidence issues, social anxiety, or even be the victim of peer pressure or bullying. Screen addiction could be a symptom of something deeper for which your child needs your help. It may be an important time to get involved in a helpful way rather than a punitive one.
Stubbornly enforcing rules without input from the child can make the child feel even more helpless. Taking away tech, video games, and screens can worsen the problem by leaving the child with no outlet of handling deeper rooted issues.
Let your child speak and have a voice. Be allowing for your child to communicate with you and have input in the situation. Let your child understand the concept of your unconditional support.
5. Do not Stigmatize Gaming or Screen Use
Building on the previous point, please do not stigmatize gaming. Being judgmental about gaming or screen use is one of the most effective ways to cause a child to put up walls and shut you out.
With current media coverage framing gaming as addictive, parents' fear around screen use is justified. Many parents are experiencing notable behavioral changes in their children that feel out of control. It is natural to want to limit gaming and screen time at all costs.
However, the game or screen may mean more than just a game or screen. It can be a child's entire social circle, babysitter, or sole source of comfort. The child sees value in gaming or the internet. Dismissing this value because you do not see it discourages recovery.
6. Be a Good Role Model
To change a child's concept of value, act in a way that reflects the value of other things. Rules take on full weight only when a child sees parents modeling how to use screens properly.
You may have to reconsider your own habits around screens to help your child. This may include anything varying from how often you watch the television, your behavior when the phone rings, to how often you check notifications, etc. A great first step is eliminating all screens in the bedroom, including a television.
7. Act Positively. Not Punitively.
Social media, video games, and most screen activities are potentially addictive partly because they are designed to be innately rewarding. An upcoming article on game and product design will be here.
One takeaway that parents can note from these designs is that reward is more effective than punishment alone. Restricting screen use on its own is not sustainable. It is important to offer alternatives for replacement that may be more fulfilling and in the long run.
Ultimately screen use is a concept of value. Replacement activities help to reorganize a child's concept of what is valuable.
Another thing: Please do not destroy your child's tech violently. It is traumatic, can be devastating toward trust, and has negative impact on the child's recovery in general.
8. Educate yourself
Reading "parent stuff" such the most current research on this quickly evolving field of problematic screen use is great. Unfortunately, it does not help connect with your child.
You could try familiarizing yourself with your child's activity. If your child is a gamer, try the game yourself. You could even offer to play with the child. In this way, you could model the healthy way to handle the activity.
9. Parenting is a Marathon. Not a Sprint.
When participating in the University of San Francisco School of Education’s Annual Parenting in the Digital Age Event in 2014, this was one of the biggest takeaways for me. Frustration you feel now is an investment in your child as an adult. It may take years before your child understands the benefit of limiting screen use. However, regulating screen use is essential to being an adult, and there will be a time when your child appreciates your efforts.
10. To Struggle Is To Grow
Great struggle is great opportunity to learn and gain experience. Regulating screen use is one of the biggest challenges of our time for parents, children, and young adults. Screen addiction is a complex issue. Not everyone who uses heavily is addicted. Even a struggle as difficult as addiction can be one of the best learning experiences that life can give.
Further Reading: An article for gamers can be found here, which may also benefit parents with suggestions for ways to talk to gamers.
Dr. Diana Yang, L.Ac., DACM is the founder of Limbic Acupuncture in San Francisco. Limbic Acupuncture is the first clinic in the United States to specialize in Chinese Medicine for Internet Gaming Disorder. A former intern at Restart Life, she is a licensed acupuncturist and life coach. She is a firm believer that gamers are some of the most brilliant people in the world, and that the way to win IRL is to “Think Outside the Skinner Box.” Follow her on Facebook.