In the current parenting world, a major issue is “screen time” and gaming.   Parents will commonly use the term “addiction” to describe their child’s desire to play games and be on screens.

While I know that young people can passionately want to play games, I don’t think it is much different than when young people wanted to watch TV whenever they could, or ride in horseless carriages 125 years ago.   People passionately wanting to do something is different than an “addiction”.  In a way, using the term to describe young people’s drive to play games diminishes actual addictions (such as heroin).

I heard a podcast that put forward a fascinating theory, associating gaming and school.   This podcast made the point that children in school have double the amounts of behavioural rules and restrictions as inmates in a penitentiary!   Children spend 6 hours or more with very little control over their own world.  Also, in traditional education, a large percentage of children experience a sense of inadequacy at school.  They are presented with tasks they may not feel confident about, or may have no idea how to address.   Children can come home feeling a strong sense of powerlessness and inadequacy.

And then there is “gaming world”.   For most young people, playing, for example, Minecraft, is the perfect antidote for those feelings.  They are completely in control of what is, in Minecraft anyway, literally their own “world”.  And they are often good at the game and experiencing a sense of mastery and competence that has been sorely lacking all day.  No wonder gaming is super gratifying and a “preferred activity”.

What are the implications for parenting?   Maybe instead of trying to restrict screen time (which often results in anger and unpleasant power struggles) we can try to increase our child’s sense of control, autonomy and self-determination in as many areas of their lives as possible.   It won’t stop them from playing games and being on screens (this stuff is fun for young people, and would have been for us if it existed when we were their age) but it will reduce the emotional “need” to use screens to recover from pervasive feelings of being powerless and inadequate in the “real world”