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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jewett

Game on: the benefits and dangers of screen time

Is the time that children spend gaming, and generally being on screens, a bad or a good thing?

Children aged 10 to 16 quizzed by the Children’s Commissioner for its new report Gaming the System cite benefits to playing online such as socialising with friends and bonding over shared interests, learning skills and having fun. As the report says: Children consider the shared experience of gaming to be just as important to their friendships as other non-digital experiences. For some, online gaming provides a social network through which they can also just talk to their friends, regardless of whether or not they were actually playing.

Parents are less positive. They often voice concerns about the possible addictiveness of online games and the risks of their children communicating with strangers, being bullied, being tempted into gambling and being exposed to violent or age-inappropriate content.

Worryingly, says the Children’s Commissioner, many parents do not seem to take age ratings for games as seriously as they do age ratings for films – four-fifths of parents do not follow video-game age restrictions. It doesn’t help that there is no single game age-rating system.

However some older children say that when they were around 11 years, their parents didn’t allow them to play Grand Theft Auto (rated 18+) because of its explicit language, sexual imagery and violence.

Another concern for parents is the amount of time their children spend on screens across digital platforms of all kinds. For parents, time spent playing online or generally on screens represents their children not being involved in other things.

For their part, some children feel frustrated if they can’t play for long stretches of time.

“You don’t realise how long you’re actually playing for,” says Nick, age 16 and a FIFA game fan. “Sometimes it’s five or six hours.”

On the one hand, it’s encouraging that a February 2019 Chief Medical Officer review – Screen-based activities and children and young people’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing – found “a lack of conclusive evidence about a possible causal link between screen time and mental-health problems”. It’s good news that it acknowledges the benefits of screen-based activities.

On the other hand, the review states, it would be “wise to take a precautionary approach”…

Advice from the Children’s Commissioner

  • Talk with your children about balancing time online and off

  • Go for a Digital 5 A Day plan: connect, be active, get creative, give to other, be mindful

  • Tell your children that games companies monetise their products – and perhaps look into new subscription-based services

  • Suggest that your children’s school focus on online games, not just social media, in digital-citizenship lessons

Advice from the Chief Medical Officer – which dovetails with Outspoken Sex Ed’s emphasis on talking openly with your kids

Talking helps! Talk with children about using screens and what they are watching. A change in behaviour can be a sign they are distressed – make sure they know they can always speak to you or a responsible adult if they feel uncomfortable with screen or social-media use

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