"The Talk" About Gaming: How to Talk With Your Child About Healthy Screen Time

Updated: Apr 23, 2019


When you think of gambling, what comes to mind? Do you picture a loner at the casino hunched over a slot machine? How about a guy with shades on and glasses playing poker? Or a group of people around a craps table cheering someone on? Would you think of the picture above? This is a picture of kids probably not older than 9 or 10 gambling through an online video game. The excitement these kids have is the same excitement an adult gets from winning the jackpot on a slot machine at a casino.


This game displayed in this picture is called Counter Strike Go or CS:GO for short. It is a five verses five first-person shooter game. Basically, a team of five players with guns walk around a map and try to kill the other players before they are killed themselves. The team who kills everyone on the opposite team first wins. Nothing about the actual game you play has anything to do with gambling. Until you introduce skins.


Fortnite example of a skin. Fun ninja skin on the left. Normal or default skin on the right.

Skins are basically clothing. It is a design or pattern that can change the look of an item in a game. Skins can come in different formats. In games like League of Legends and Fortnite, skins change the look of a character. They are different outfits for the character you play with. Skins can make the natural looking character turn into a cool ninja. It enhances the gameplay for the gamer.


A skin in CS:GO is a design on a gun or knife. The default AK-47 in CS:GO looks similar to what you would see in real life. But a skin for an AK-47 could make it look like it has a dragon or graffiti on it. It could have a different pattern or engraving on it. The skin for the AK-47 doesn’t make the gun more accurate or help the player win more games, but it does up the cool factor.


Players of CS:GO can simply buy skins online with real money. They can also get skins through opening crates. Crates have different skins some more rare than others. When you open a crate, you have the chance to win a rare item. But you are far more likely to get a common item. This is the same concept of a slot machine. The player has a chance to win the jackpot, but a very small one. The kids at the top of this blog had around a 0.44% chance to get that item in yellow, a knife. Their excitement is real because they literally hit the jackpot.


The point in saying all of this is that some games in 2019 are not just games. They are an opportunity to gamble. Gambling is fun and can be done responsibly. Drinking is also fun if done responsibly. But those are both for adults 21 years and older. When gambling and drinking is NOT done responsibly, problems and possibly addiction can occur.


Giving children exposure to an additive activity can be problematic. It is important to monitor your child’s gaming and really learn about the games they play. It does not mean your child will become addicted to gambling or gaming if they play CS:GO. It’s possible to play and have healthy boundaries with that, or any, game. But it’s a conversation that is worth to have with your kids. Talk with them about the importance of having limits and playing responsibly.


You may ask, “How do I talk to my kids about their gaming? It’s like they are speaking Greek!” That’s a great question. It may feel like an unobtainable task to talk to your kids about healthy gaming and screen time. Here are some tips to help.


Listen, Listen, Listen. Then Listen Some More.

Before we say anything to our kids about what they should do with their gaming time, we need to listen. They will tune you out if you start the conversation with what they need to do. Your main goal is to understand their perspective. Listen to what they like about the game and learn about it. The only focus on this stage of the conversation is to allow your child to talk. Give them the platform and then reflect what you hear them say. When they see you are truly listening to them, that will really get their attention.


Restrict Judgement

As you are listening to your child talk about the intricacies of PUBG, it can be easy to want to make judgements on what they are saying. You may want to say things like, “That sounds like a complete waste of time.” Or “I don’t see why you like that game so much.” When we say that, it keeps us emotionally distant from our children. They will think you do not understand them.


They want us to “get it.” They want us to say, “You are really excited about this game! You enjoy the competitive nature of this game and how it challenges you.” When we want to have healthy conversations with our kids about setting healthy gaming limits, we need to restrict expressing our judgments.


Role with Resistance

I’m going to give you some insight on a counseling technique. Rolling with resistance is a counseling term that helps resistant clients make change. In this case, you are chatting with your teenage gamer who has absolutely no desire to change their gaming habits. You can role with resistance by expressing where they are coming from, then discuss what it would look like for them to do what you are desiring of them.


For example. You could say something like this, “You really enjoy this game. It’s fun, exciting, a good way to relax after school, and a way to chat with your friends. You like this game a lot! Sometimes, too much focus on one activity can be problematic. How could you still play this game but reduce the amount of time you play?”


You start with expressing where they are coming from. Then you transition to a truth or boundary you want to implement. You then invite them to find the solution with you rather than giving an order or command. This way, your child may be more likely to respond in a positive way.


Set and Enforce Boundaries

Once you have listened to your child and effectively rolled with resistance, you can turn to the last stage, setting and enforcing clear boundaries. It is vital you build a positive relationship and positive communication with your child, but ultimately you are the parent. Your rules need to rule in your house and it's okay to stand in that authority. You don't have to be belligerent about it, but you can be firm in what your realistic expectations are to keep your child healthy.


It is important to make you child part of the conversation by allowing them to come up with solutions to reduce their problematic gaming time. Hopefully they will be on board. If so, it will be easier to come up with rules and enforce them as the parent. If they are resistant and do not want to make any changes, then it is okay to enforce reasonable boundaries and guidelines. The ultimate goal is to increase your child's overall well-being and health. It's healthy to have limited time to gaming and screens. Check out what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends on screen time for children.

It is important to talk with your child about the potential harmful affects of gaming or an aspect of their game. If you see they are gambling, it could be wise to talk openly about that. Express where they are coming from, but then discuss the reasons why gambling has an age restriction. Like drinking alcohol, gambling can cause problems for children. You can understand where they are coming from and still discuss the potential harmful affects of some of these activities.


It is hard to have healthy conversations with your kids about gaming. Sometimes it does not go how you would like. The main point is to work on strengthening your relationship with your child. The closer your child feels to you emotionally, the more they will trust and be open to your ideas because they know you are looking out for them. As you continue to strengthen your relationship with your child, have these healthy conversations. Your healthier child will thank you.