Editor’s Note: From time to time we like to invite local experts from the community to answer questions about parenting and raising kids in Huntsville and North Alabama. Today we asked Caleb Ballew with Martinson & Beason, P.C. to address questions about video gaming safety for your family.
Gaming has become an integral part of entertainment in our society, and it’s not going away. Interactive media, the umbrella term for all gaming, generated over $100 billion in gross revenue in 2017. There’s even a professional gaming league that has its own section on ESPN and is broadcast on TBS. If you’re the parent of a child over the age of five, there is a significant chance video games are played in your house or will start in the very near future.
What Parents Should Know
It is vital for parents to educate themselves about gaming culture and their own kids’ gaming habits, not solely to prevent bad habits or protect against scammers and predators, but to share in the fun and strengthen the ties with their kids. Given the widespread popularity of gaming, even among adults, according to Pew Research, parents who choose to ignore gaming culture and their kids’ gaming habits, do so at their own risk.
That said, we’d like to highlight some pros and cons parents should keep in mind.
The Pros of Gaming Together
1. Playing video games can increase the positive aspects of the relationship with your kids.
Terry Crews, of NFL and Old Spice commercial fame, lauds gaming for saving the relationship with his son. Crews admits he was losing his son and made a decision to get educated and enthusiastic about what his son loved – video games.
If you feel like you don’t get to spend enough time with your children, then join in the fun by playing video games with your kids. Maybe you travel a lot of work or have to share custody of your children because of a divorce; if that’s the case, save some money to get your own gaming system so you can interact with your kids even if you can’t be with them. Every modern video game console or computer connects to the internet and many of the games allow players to compete against each other or work together cooperatively within the game. This is known as “multiplayer” and provides parents an opportunity to play games with their kids through the internet as opposed to forcing the child to talk on the telephone.
2. Parents are able to control settings on video game consoles just like computers.
Modern gaming presents plenty of issues that parents need to understand in order to recognize problems that can come up with overuse and under-supervision. Gaming consoles can do more than just play video games—they also play DVDs, allow internet use, exchange and receive instant messages, and allow purchase of games directly from the internet. Parents should know exactly what their home video game consoles can do.
However, just like with the family computer, a video game console (Nintendo, Playstation, or Xbox, likely) comes with a variety of parental control options. These options can:
- Restrict more mature games and DVDs from being played without password entry
- Restrict the use of the console’s internet browser
- Set monthly spending limits
- Prevent the purchase of more mature games and movies
3. Video games relieve stress and improve cognitive function.
Scientific studies have shown that playing video games can reduce work-related stress and contribute to the cognitive improvement of elderly persons. Tough day at work? Fire up the gaming system after the kids have gone to bed for an hour to unwind or spend some quality time playing with your kids on an age-appropriate game. Of course, moderation is the key here.
The Downside of Video Games
1. Video games can be financially predatory.
One of the biggest criticisms of video games is that they prey on young children’s lack of financial responsibility and inhibitions. This form of predatory gaming has recently popped up with “loot boxes” in games. Loot boxes are features in video games that randomly give players a certain reward, character, or ability by using in-game currency or even real money. The use of real money without a guaranteed result, caused the Belgian government to declare that loot boxes were illegal gambling. Predatory gaming has also caught the attention of the state legislators, with state representative Chris Lee of Hawaii calling for an investigation into the predatory practices.
2. Video games can be addictive.
Recent scientific studies show a direct link with video game use and addictive behavior, so much so that the World Health Organization declared gaming addiction a recognizable disorder. While gaming is a good way to relax on a rainy day, allowing a child to play the Playstation all day, every day isn’t healthy, and can actually lead to mental health disorders.
3. Video games can bring all of the negative issues that comes with the Internet.
Internet browsers, instant messengers, and apps can all be accessed through most video game systems. If parents are not diligent in making sure that their children’s system is protected and properly monitored, then they may be exposed to the same dangers through their Xbox as the family laptop or desktop computer.
As a parent, learning about the functions of whichever gaming system your child owns will better prepare you to know what to watch for and how to prevent potential issues.
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ABOUT THE EXPERT: Caleb W. Ballew is an associate attorney with the Huntsville law firm of Martinson & Beason, P.C., where he has practiced since 2012. Caleb’s practice areas include divorce, domestic relations, criminal defense, general civil litigation, and estate litigation. In addition, he is a certified guardian ad litem and often represents the rights of juveniles. Caleb’s wife, Kourtney, is also an attorney, and they live in the medical district of Huntsville.
Rocket City Mom is a website about raising children in and around Huntsville, Alabama. Started in late 2010 by a local mom and newcomer to Huntsville, Rocket City Mom has grown into a thriving community of local parents and now boasts a staff of four, thirteen regular contributors, and tens of thousands of Tennessee Valley readers making it the #1 Parenting Resource in North Alabama.