Playing video games online, in small friendship and peer groups, has become a favourite pastime for many kids today.

Games that involve multiple players, working together and as teams, can however, lead to challenging social dynamics that sometimes spill over into real life playgrounds.

The need for parents to understand these elements of play, and to set up boundaries and implement helpful strategies, is crucial in helping to provide and encourage a positive playing field for all involved.

We know that there are many positive benefits in allowing our kids to enjoy video games.

Studies have shown there to be social and emotional benefits, allowing children to relax and release stress as well as gain from a sense of achievement and connection.

There are also physical and cognitive skills as they develop hand eye co-ordination and expand on problem solving, teamwork, planning and critical thinking skills.

The extent of these benefits, however, continues to be determined by how they are playing, who they are playing with and how these online interactions are played out in real life.

Playing in online groups or teams usually means the player who runs the server becomes the leader, thus having the ability to make decisions affecting the group, sometimes leading to bullying and exclusion.

When altercations spill over into the schoolyard or playground, the game playing can start to affect the social and emotional wellbeing of individuals.

Different boundaries set by parents regarding time limits, language and appropriate behaviours, can also lead to conflict.

So how can parents help keep the gaming experience positive for all the kids involved?

Learn and Play

Take the time to understand the games your kids are playing.

Kids take great pride in teaching you, so get them to help you learn a new game and have a go playing with them.

It doesn’t have to be for a long time or very often, but it certainly helps them to know that you have an understanding of what they are doing and allows you to remain a little more relevant to their world.

Talk to Other Parents

If your child is playing with a regular group of friends it is a good idea to chat to the other parents to help determine some similar boundaries. Having parents on the same page makes it much easier when trying to enforce behaviours and time limits.

No Headphones

When playing online together and talking to other players it is always a good idea to make sure the game is played where a parent is within earshot.

It is also a good idea to get kids get into the habit of knowing someone could always be listening or watching whenever they play online. If kids are engaged in an open chat, without the use of headphones, it is easier for a parent to keep tabs of the nature of the interaction and communication.

Have your own Rules too

Remember that despite playing in a group and despite what other parents are allowing their children to do, like any parenting decisions, you still have the final say.

Discuss with your child early on your expectations for how they play and the consequences of not playing within those boundaries.

Just as we have expectations of our kid’s behaviour in real life with regards to the way they socialise and interact, these expectations must also be upheld in the world of online gaming, where communications can be even more transparent.

As our children begin to explore new games and expand their online connections, parents must be sure they have the skills to manage these relationships and the ability to regulate their own behaviours, so they continue to benefit from a positive gaming experience.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

  • Yes I agree boundaries are incredibly important.

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  • Online gaming for children?! Are you kidding me?! There is way too much at stake to let this happen. There’s plenty of PS3, WII, XBox etc games for them to play without subjecting them to online dangers

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  • Rukes are a must. We haven’t allowed our kids to do online gaming at this stage.

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  • Thanks again for sharing; you have to definitely establish your own rules and stick to them!

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  • This is interesting – you hear a lot about questions of violent video games, social media nullying, and the dangers of online interaction with potential predators, but the issue of peer gaming and the relationship to the schoolyard is intersting. So much to think about as my kids start to get older!

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  • We were advised by a top eye specialist (as they were called then) not to allow young children especially toddlers to have too much screen time, including TV. and to make sure they didn’t sit too close, so what do the new gadgets do to their eyes. I have noticed more school age children wearing glasses than there used to be.
    Considering they have computers in their classrooms and do some of their work on them, no wonder some have eye problems. Fortunately they don’t sit at them for too long or they would develop other medical problems too. I know a 7 year old who has to do school work on her Mum’s computer at home. When her Mum’s computer crashed she got into trouble and lost marks for not doing it.

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  • technology is taking over in homes and schools.

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  • Teenage gaming often involves interacting online with older players. This can open a door for more colourful expletives and increase in emotional responses. Just saying to make parents aware that these are other components to gaming that need to be considered.

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  • Thanks for sharing your story.

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  • Love this article. thankyou. I have a hubby and boy always connecting into some form of game, playstation or internet. Great tips.

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  • My son plays animal jam and I even worry about that.

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  • Like everything, boundaries need to be established & stuck to, moderation & balance.
    Technology & online are creeping in everywhere.

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  • Some great tips. Definitely need to stick to the ground rules, the lax I get the more the kids push :/

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  • Thanks for sharing this article. An interesting read.

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  • My kids don’t really play any online gaming I’d rather them playing outside or making things

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