It’s that time of year when we wind down from the busy activities of the year and take time out to enjoy the freedom holidays provide us to spend time with friends and family to enjoy peace and quiet and a break from the usual weekly routines.
School has wrapped up for the year (or will be wrapping up shortly) and students will be taking a well-earned break from the hard work of learning at school. Even though formal learning is over for the year it is key that children continue to consolidate their learning. Reading, writing and basic facts will benefit from continued practice over the holiday break. Some children, especially those who are struggling will sometimes lose some of what they have learned during the longer Christmas holidays. To prevent this loss of learning encourage your child to keep reading. Public libraries often have reading programs on offer during the summer break. Look for opportunities to write. Children can write emails to relatives or friends. Using a phone or digital camera they can take photos of family trips, pets or projects or games and then caption them or write a story about them.
I would like to take a moment to say thank you to those of you who have read my blog during the year. I’m going to take a short break from regular blog posts and will start posting again in the new year. If you have any areas that you would like me to write about, please get in touch and let me know.
Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday.
Online gaming and the challenges this can bring is something that seems to be hitting the headlines a lot recently. In my own work I’ve had parents contacting me with concerns about their child’s online gaming behaviour. I thought I’d do a little bit of research about online gaming to find out a little bit more to share with you.
I had a look at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which is a handbook used by mental health professionals. It helps with the diagnostic process and has descriptions, symptoms and criteria professionals can use to help with diagnosing mental conditions. When a mental health professional is considering diagnosis of a condition, they would generally look at the DSM-5 for guidance around decision making. At this point or in this version of the DSM, Internet Gaming Disorder has made it to the Conditions for Further Study section of the handbook. The conditions for further study section are where the authors put areas which require further research and study. The information about each disorder is the best evidence from the field so far but did not meet the high standard for inclusion within the section for official mental disorder diagnosis. When the DSM-5 is revised the evidence will be reviewed and a decision made to exclude or include this new diagnosis in the main body of the book. At this stage it could be said that the jury is out.
I thought you might be interested in what the researchers and experts in this area did think might be criteria for an internet gaming disorder. This is my paraphrasing from the DSM-5 and not a direct quotation. The proposed criteria provide up to 9 areas of which at least 5 must be implicated over a year and must be causing clinically significant distress. Someone would be preoccupied with gaming to the exclusion of other daily activities, they would demonstrate symptoms of withdrawal when they are unable to access the game, they would require increasing amounts of time on the game, they would have experienced failure in attempts to control the time spent gaming, they would demonstrate a lack of interest in any other previously enjoyed leisure time activities, despite awareness of the negative effects of the gaming they would continue, deceptive about their gaming activities, gaming is being used to escape negative moods, has sacrificed relationships, education or work because of internet gaming. Rightly so there is a high barrier to get over for someone to be considered to have a real difficulty with gaming. Most people would not fit these preliminary criteria. In fact, the prevalence cited in DSM-5 based on studies conducted in some Asian countries on adolescents appears to be 8.4% for males and 4.5% for females. Please keep in mind that these figures are not necessarily generalisable as the data comes from a limited part of the world and has not been able to be contextualised with other research studies conducted in other parts of the world. The DSM criteria does give us some idea of what the experts in the field consider to be problematic behaviour. But in common with other diagnostic criteria the problem of what to do about challenging behaviours isn’t covered.
I had a bit of a fossick about in some of the recent research studies to see if there were any pointers there. From a 2017 article titled, A cross-sectional study of heavy gaming, problematic gaming symptoms, and online socializing in adolescents (fully referenced at the end of this blog post) I found the following. When young people are socially active online, they seem to demonstrate fewer symptoms of or met fewer criteria of internet gaming disorder as defined by the DSM-5. Female heavy gamers experienced lower self-esteem but made fewer reports of loneliness and social anxiety than average adolescents. The authors concluded that for some adolescents who combine what might be considered heavy gaming with active social media it appeared that the social media may be moderating the negative impacts of the gaming.
Another article had some interesting information for parents. Parental Influences on Pathological Symptoms of Video-Gaming Among Children and Adolescents: A Prospective Study published in 2015(fully referenced at the end of this blog post). This study identified that restrictive parental rules and regulations may not be effective at reducing the negative symptoms of intensive internet gaming. They studied parents setting restrictions on time, place and content of gaming and found no empirical evidence that this was helpful. They found that the quality of parent child relationships was key. A two-way process of parental mediation allowed moderation of gaming while one-way parental imposition of restrictions did not help.
John Parsons’ book Keeping Your Children Safe Online: A guide for New Zealand parents, published by Potton and Burton, has a chapter dedicated to online addictions. John provides advice which aligns with the 2015 study in that managing your child’s interactions online requires a two-way relationship.
Online gaming is often a social activity, children and young people play with peers they have met at school, sporting or other social occasions, at times they may be gaming with people from other places in the world. There are even some studies indicating that the visual spatial skills of children who game online are superior to those who do not. There is no doubt that there are very real benefits to our children and young people engaging with online gaming.
What is important is that we as parents actively involve ourselves with this by finding out who our children are gaming with, ensuring that they are prepared to deal with any difficulties encountered within the game, discussing good limits to gaming such as only gaming when homework is completed and taking breaks for other social interactions like meals or visiting friends. We as parents also need to be ready to deal calmly with situations when things do go wrong so that our child feels able to tell us they are having a problem.
Carras, M.C., Rooij, A.J., Mheen, D.V., Musci, R., Xue, Q., & Mendelson, T. (2017). Video gaming in a hyperconnected world: A cross-sectional study of heavy gaming, problematic gaming symptoms, and online socializing in adolescents. Computers in human behavior, 68, 472-479.
Choo, Hyekyung & Sim, Timothy & K. F. Liau, Albert & Gentile, Douglas & Khoo, Angeline. (2015). Parental Influences on Pathological Symptoms of Video-Gaming Among Children and Adolescents: A Prospective Study. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 24. 10.1007/s10826-014-9949-9.
This is something that keeps parents awake at nights and often comes up in conversation when parents get together. There is not an option to avoid technology and the connectedness that the internet provides. Instead we must find ways to teach our children to enjoy all the advantages that technology can bring us in a safe way. The big but is of course, but how do we let our children/young people access all this whilst keeping themselves safe.
In last week’s blog I discussed some of my thinking around how education is being impacted by technology. This week I’d like to focus much more on the question of safety. I recently read a fantastic book written by John Parsons, Keeping Your Children Safe Online: A guide for New Zealand parents, published by Potton and Burton. I would recommend this as a great read to anyone parenting children and young people of any age. John has a very sensible and practical approach.
One of the key themes that runs through the book is that parents treat the online world as an actual physical space just the same as they treat any other space their child might find themselves in and then think about applying some of the same guidelines. When our children are little, we would not dream of allowing them to walk to the park alone. When we take them to the park, we take time to demonstrate and guide them in the safe use of playground equipment and show them the areas that are safe to run or kick a ball. As they get older and we as parents feel that they are ready to walk to school or the park on their own we would ensure they knew a safe route and what to do if something went wrong. When our child arrived home after an independent outing, we would most likely check in to see how things had gone and offer some support and advice if something didn’t go as planned. John urges parents to think about the online world in the same way.
He cautions parents not to allow their children to set up Facebook or other social media accounts when they are too young to do so. In the same way that we wouldn’t send our 2-year-old to play at the park on their own the online location of social media sites isn’t set up to provide a safe place for children younger than the stated age. He also offers the chilling idea that if your child has signed up when they are younger by lying about their age everyone will see their age as several years older than it is. This can too easily lead to inappropriate relationships based on a misunderstanding about the age of the person who opened the social media account. A further point he makes is that if your child asks to set up the account when they are too young this is a great moment to discuss being respectful of the companies who have set the social media up and how you expect your child to behave as they interact with the world.
John covers a wide range of concerns common to parents in terms of keeping children safe online including those that we may find difficult to discuss such as sexting or sharing inappropriate images and avoiding sexual predators online. His advice is sensible and down to earth. He has several principles which parents can apply to many of the situations encountered online. He provides reassuring advice about what to do when things have already gone wrong. There is a comprehensive list at the back of the book with contact information about the various services that can help. I have often heard adults saying that once an inappropriate image or piece of information is online it’s there forever. John corrected this by clarifying that as further information is put online about an individual the older information slips away. Perhaps an expert could find the old information, but general searches won’t turn up the unfortunate photo or post. This must be very comforting to anyone who has made a mistake online.
Of relevance to parents is that John cautions us to keep what he terms the ‘Cyber Tooth Tiger’ under control. This is part of our evolutionary history and stems from the way that people have evolved from the times when the proper reaction to a sabre-toothed tiger was a strong one in order to survive. When we or our children is under threat we can react very strongly and at times becoming angry with the child for putting him or herself or our family in harms way. The problem with this reaction is that it tends to put children off telling us what is going on. If we don’t know what’s happening, we can’t help.
Overall John is letting us know that what we do effectively to keep our children not just safe but thriving in the physical world are the same things we should do to keep our children safe in the online world. There is no need for us to be technological wizards in order to help our children. We just need to be engaged and interested parents.
As a further note, John lists Netsafe at the back of his book among many other agencies. I thought it was worthwhile to repeat the address here, https://www.netsafe.org.nz/. Netsafe should be a go to place for anyone using the internet. There are sections of relevance for education and parents.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.