Gaming doesn’t have to be addictive

I must admit – I was never good at Street Fighter, or the games consumed by my peers in the 90s. The one exception was Snake, on my early Nokia. This generation of kids will never understand the euphoria of seeing that screen fill up to the corners at the completion of a successful game. I did, however, flat with someone who was a World of Warcraft fan. It was my first glimpse into the pull gaming has for some people – for my friend in particular, it caused him to leave his job and play full-time.

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So I’ve seen, up close, something that many parents worry about – gaming can be addictive. I’m not saying it will happen to your child, but it certainly can happen. Games actually tick a lot of boxes for kids. There’s the challenge of mastering skills, the thrill of competition and the comradery of networking with other gamers. Games are crafted by artists and scientists to stimulate us, and give our brains a surge of adrenaline and dopamine – making us want more.

But the good news is that the majority of gamers handle their hobby just fine. Evidence also suggests that kids who are into video games are often into real sports too. Yes, some get addicted, but most don’t. So as parents, we can probably worry less, but we should also remain vigilant and not be afraid to step in and restore balance in our kids’ lives.

Some tips

Treat your kids as the experts

Ask them to explain their games to you. Ask for a demo – even ask for a turn (playing games together can be a great parent-child interaction).

Be aware of the games your kids are playing

Fortunately, all games come with an age rating. It is far from a perfect system, but it’s a good place to start.

Negotiate time limits

Give a five minute warning to end a game so they exit it well. “I need you at the table in five minutes. Can you start saving and shutting down now please?”

Use parental controls

Your kids’ gaming consoles, phones and tablets will all have parental controls built in to detect ratings and can be set to block excessively violent or explicit games. Vodafone’s has some great information on parental controls and putting healthy boundaries in place.

Don’t expect your kid to be happy, if you need to intervene

In these moments, wind your anger down (it never works) and wind up your love and resolve. If you’re doing it for their own good, you’ll be able to handle their disappointment. If you’re taking gaming out of their world, think about what you could add into their lives to fill the vacuum.

Game recommendations

Here are a few games that are not only fun, but educational too – teaching your kids problem-solving, critical thinking, language skills, and mathematics.

  • Dora the Explorer (for ages 3-6 and available on Nintendo Wii, DS and Gameboy Advance, Sony PlayStation and PC)
  • Big Brain Academy (for ages 3+ and available on Nintendo DS)
  • Magic School Bus (for ages 6 to 10 and available on PC)
  • Little Big Planet (for ages 7+ and available on Sony PlayStation 3)
  • Professor Layton Series (for ages 10 + and available on Nintendo DS )
  • Civilisation (for ages 10+ and available on PC and Xbox)

In most families, limits around gaming evolve naturally – a tweak here, a readjustment there, and things seem to move forward without too much stress. However, if you think there needs to be a tune-up of attitudes and behaviour, have a family meeting. Talk back and forth about what rules might be necessary and come up with a contract to try. The real benefit is not that you end up with a piece of paper with signatures on it – what is far more valuable is the discussion and thinking that happens as you work it out together. You can find family contracts here or at

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.