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Guest Blog – Chris Borg

What Are Adolescents Really Getting Out of Their Online Life?

5 Ways To Manage You Child’s Gaming and Social Media Use

When it comes to gaming and electronic devices, there’s so much information out in the community and online that it can be confusing trying to make sense of it all! Parents may find themselves wondering, “How much is too much? Should I be worried? How can I limit my teen’s usage?”  When considering your adolescent’s interest in gaming, it is important to contemplate a few key factors – what makes gaming so appealing? What effects is it having and how can I monitor the time being spent on devices?

What makes gaming so appealing and can it be a good thing?

Research suggests that adolescents are significantly attracted to the social interaction of video games. For concerned parents, lamenting over time wasted gaming in isolation, let’s pause for a moment. There is evidence indicating that adolescents are more often than not, gaming with friends, communicating and interacting, much like their parents may have chatted on the phone with friends during their adolescence. Furthermore, research looking at the social and emotional interaction of multiplayer gamers determined that these interactions were often encouraging and affirming, resulting in largely positive and helpful exchanges between gamers. This is not to say that gaming is a substitute for face to face socialisation. It does however offer an alternative social pathway for adolescents and for many, it develops their social lives further.

Beyond this, social worker and clinician, Andrew Fishman, highlights evidence of how gaming can be a safe place for vulnerable adolescents to explore social interactions. Eliminating pressure to respond immediately (if at all), the autonomy to communicate on their terms and from the comfort of their own home, gaming can be a positive experience for adolescents experiencing social anxiety, shyness and depressive symptoms. For adolescents with limited social skills or with autism spectrum disorders, effective communication skills may be hindered by the inability to process information, read body language, maintain eye contact, understand tone or communicate verbally. Gaming can be a safe space to connect and interact with others, make friends and build greater self-esteem and confidence, thus reducing social isolation.

Hang on a minute! What about the violent video games? Surely, they can’t be good!

In the same way as hockey, rudgby and other aggressive sports, video games containing violence can offer a positive outlet for aggression, anger and frustration. This can provide adolescents with a contained outlet for stress that may otherwise be supressed or harmful in their conventional lives. Concerned parents may wonder about the appeal of violent video games and it is important to note that for gamers, much of the magnetism of these games is in the remuneration. Arguably, these video games can provide a satisfying context for the expression of emotions. Research indicates that adolescent males are drawn to these games as it offers them the autonomy to be in control and determine the emotional situations they elect to encounter. It’s can be a safe and private domain in which they can experience diverse emotions, some of which they may be unable to express in their day to day lives.

Finally, video games can promote an adolescents interest in technology, paving the way to a vocation or pursuits such as coding or programming.

Setting boundaries

When it comes to setting boundaries with your adolescent it is crucial that these are firm and fair. Flexibility is important and when boundaries start to stretch or fall by the way side, take stock and move forward. Maggie Dent is an educator, author and parenting specialist. She provides parents with valuable strategies around managing adolescent’s electronic device use. Here are some of her suggestions:

  1. Ensure meal times are device free
  2. Ensure your teenage is responsible for excessive data expenses
  3. Keep devices out of the bedroom
  4. Encourage exercise and recreational activity; great for their mental health, social connections, health and fitness. Aim for daily exercise or a minimum of 3 times per week (this can include walking the dog and kicking a ball around!)
  5. Keep up  regular social interactions that are screen free

It is also important that adolescents are actively encouraged to participate and contribute to the day to day happenings of family life. For example, chores are delegated and carried out and time is set aside for homework and study. Show an interest in your adolescent’s life and ask open questions to keep communication lines open.

If you’re seeking further advice and support you can contact Parent Line NSW, on 1300 1300 52. 

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