YSafe Executive Director Yasmin London discusses safe screen time

Guest blogger YSafe Executive Director Yasmin London shares gaming and screen time advice with IGS parents, following her recent presentation.

Headlines on this topic are often pretty sensational, and some are seemingly catastrophic in their reference
to gaming addiction and screen time disorders.

Google the words “gaming addiction” and you will be met with what feels like a barrage of terror – the information and apparent systemic presence of these issues can at times, make us want to shut up shop entirely when it comes to technology. 

While there has been a recent push in the health profession to recognise Gaming Addiction as a clinical disorder, it is imperative that we as parents and advocates have a balanced approach to this area, and equip ourselves with the skills and qualified knowledge to make sensible and informed choices for our own children. The solution to managing what can feel like an overwhelming problem is actually quite simple – tried and tested practical strategies, coupled with boundaries and communication, implemented regularly.

The Canadian Paediatric Society defines screen time as any time spent on a screen-based device, including
television, computers, smartphones, tablets, video games and even wearable technology such as a smartwatch. But, not all screen time is created equal. The most recent research in this domain advocates focuses on the activities kids are engaging in, rather than fixating on the actual time spent in front of screens.

When it comes to parenting in the online space, it is vital to look at the appropriateness of the material kids are accessing and opportunities for risk areas such as online chat, in addition to focusing on how long they are engaged.

Top 3 tips on how you can help your children stay in control of their time online:
1. Keep gaming consoles and devices out of bedrooms.

Adolescents need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night for proper growth and development, and to recharge themselves for another day. Studies have shown when teens have consoles or devices in their bedrooms, it can negatively affect their sleep quality.

From a cognitive perspective, teenagers tend to edge into sleep-readiness later on in the evening, and naturally want to go to sleep a little later. Couple that with underdeveloped impulse control and an exciting gaming console that while playing brings a child into a heightened state of cognitive arousal (not to mention tricky brain hacking tactics designed to keep them engaged), and your child barely stands a chance at saying “no”. Suddenly it’s 3am, they are tired, but their brain is not. It takes them time to “come down” from that stimulating experience and rest efficiently, and the result is a tired and irritable teen.

2. Ensure your child’s real-world relationships are always stronger than their online ones.

The online world provides a global community for teens. Healthy and balanced connection to groups of specific people from all over the world sometimes allows them to find their “tribe.”

Those who empathise with or understand them can play a positive role in a teen’s life, and by all accounts from a teen’s perspective are an extremely meaningful and valuable addition to their lives. Positive examples of these groups include those that promote diversity and inclusion for LGBTQI+ young people, or those suffering from rare health conditions, and have been shown to be instrumental in helping people understand themselves, and find empowerment on their individual life path.

It is important as parents that we respect those relationships, and treat them as real – because our children do. Problems occur when vulnerable kids’ online relationships start to become stronger than those in their real worlds. Teens suffering from issues such as low self-esteem, those lacking personal validation, or who may be going through trauma are particularly vulnerable, often finding solace in an unbalanced way online. 

The other risk factors with these relationships are that ill-intentioned strangers are often present and looking for susceptible teens to prey on. These people may reinforce reduced interest in those peers or family in their own home or school, and manipulate a teen to become more connected with them instead.

Be sure to keep home relationships strong and compassionate, and while being open to the online world and the support it offers, parents must know who their kids are investing time in and why. It always pays to ensure home is truly where their heart is.

3. Be aware of all online chat functions.

One of the biggest risk areas (and one that is commonly often overlooked by parents) is the presence of in game chat, or open social media profiles which allow strangers to contact children directly. Even the most innocent looking games like Minecraft for example, connect kids straight into a melting pot of people they don’t know. Yes, they may say they are playing with friends they know, or even friends of friends, but wherever children are, predators are never very far away.

If you have younger children, it is helpful to discuss these three x rules of engagement with any person they come into contact with online. 
1. Your child must know that person’s first and last name.
2. Your child must know that person in real life.
3. You as parents must also know that person, and have given your okay.

If your child can’t reassure you on these three points, they either need to work on answering them with your help, or they must disengage.

The biggest risk area for kids when it comes to time online is the opportunity for strangers to engage with them over a topic they are passionate about. This tactic leaves them vulnerable to manipulation, and unintentionally revealing personal information which can put them at risk.

Hot Tip: Keep headphones out of game time for as long as possible. Parents need to hear what is being said.

There is a lot to cover in this ever-evolving area, but if you are able to ensure your child’s time online is balanced, their access is controlled, and you keep your home relationships strong by openly communicating, you are putting your best foot forward for a balanced and healthy digital life.

IGS thanks guest blogger: YSafe Executive Director, Yasmin London