The constraints of the pandemic and home-based learning have pushed tweens to socialise online more than ever before. During the lockdown, my son’s social scene centred around gaming until he was cyberbullied
As a mother I try to be fair, creating boundaries, providing balance and above all protecting my children as much as I can from the influences of our modern technological world. I must admit, with a 12-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl I look back on their younger years, and it seemed so much simpler. No phones, limited device time, boundaries around screen time, no exposure to social media – it was much easier to control. But fast forward to the present and I am battling with it all. Then add Covid and Home-Based-Learning (HBL) to the equation and all of a sudden parenting has turned up a notch or two. I think we can all admit that some of our discipline and boundaries became a tiny bit laxer during lockdown – “Sure have more TV”, “Ok just this once you can have more iPad time”, “Who are you talking to? Ah ok catching up with your friends, don’t be too long”.
And this is where it began to go pear-shaped.
In hindsight, I knew he’d love ‘gaming’ if given the chance
My son has always been super active. Always into team sports and would beg to go out and shoot some hoops or kick the footy after school. He wasn’t much into ‘gaming’ and would only play on the PlayStation and Nintendo when he was around at friends’ houses. Even when there was a craze around Minecraft he was barely interested. I knew however that he has an addictive and obsessive personality. He’s gone deep into yoyo tricks, cup stacking and Rubik’s cubing for months at a time – researching, learning, practicing and mastering. In hindsight, I knew he would love ‘gaming’ if given the chance.
During the first lockdown in Singapore when children had to adapt to HBL, the only way for my son to ‘socialise’ with his schoolmates was to jump online and game. At first, we said no, but after a lot of coaxing we finally gave in.
Setting limits to gaming – what happens when families have different rules?
We set boundaries, we had limits and rules and we were clear that gaming should never take over his schoolwork, his reading or physical activity. Admittedly, he has more or less kept to the rules in the past year, but not without trying to push back now and then. The bigger problem lies with our collective of parents in my son’s gaming circle. Our family rule is no gaming during the week and only one hour daily on weekends. But when my sons’ friends are allowed to play during the week he feels left out of the online social scene. I respect that each family has their own rules, circumstances and issues to deal with. I tell my child that I am his mother, not their mother. I’m setting our boundaries and screentime limits to protect him, not to be mean, but he sees it as being unfair.
Secretly though, I wish us parents could come together and agree to some universal rules around gaming so that all our kids are on the same page – after all, don’t we all want the best for our children?
Strategising and socialising online: positives of gaming
The kids, and in particular the boys stay in touch via gaming, whether it’s Minecraft, Roblox or Fortnite, there are countless games where you can interact in a virtual world with your mates. They chat whilst playing, they strategize together and they work as a team. On the surface, it sounds pretty good, and perhaps better than watching TV. They are using their brains and interacting with their peers. In this way, and if boundaries and limits are set and respected, gaming could potentially be a positive experience. But when things take a turn for the worse, gaming can become another way to bully and ostracise as my son found out.
Cyberbullying and violence: negative impacts of gaming
Unfortunately, gaming can bring about aggression, bad language and sometimes bullying. This is where I drew the line. Aggression, because Fortnite is essentially a shoot ’em up game. Don’t be masked by the dances and the cool characters – the aim of the game is to kill. You can kill in Minecraft as well but it’s not the aim of the game.
Three weeks ago, we took Fortnite away as it got out of hand. My son got picked on by a schoolmate whom he’s known for some time. He got extremely upset when he was name called and pushed out of a game several times. When kids play an online game together they can force one player off the game by kicking them out by a simple click of a button. My son and others were excluded from the social circle in this way several times.
On top of that, we discovered some unpleasant language used in a gaming group chat that was directed at my son, which spurred us to contact the parents. Naming and shaming was not what my son wanted us to do, but we had to step in, and thank goodness we did as the other parents were very apologetic and considerate. Both sets of parents agreed that we should take the game away for a few weeks as a consequence. We also shared our rules around gaming and the other parents were also going to enforce more limits around it moving forward. I felt like it was a win-win situation and although it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences, I believe together as parents we showed solidarity around the adverse effects of gaming amongst our children.
Hard lessons learnt
My son has learnt a lot from this experience, and what gaming can do to his mind – even noticing that the over stimulus can cause his moods to swing and bring on unwanted anxiety. He understands now that there are a lot of negative effects of gaming. He learnt it the hard way, but in the end it was his choice to remove Fortnite from his computer. He plays Minecraft, and I think for his age we are happy to come to this compromise (with limits).
From wanting my son not to feel like an outcast amongst his friends, we had in turn given him a springboard to feel like that through gaming. It wasn’t the outcome we had envisaged and I wish we could go back in time and say no in the first place.
In doing research around the impact of gaming, I come across this episode of Supernanny with Jo Frost where she conducted an experiment with 40 12-year-old boys. Half played a football game, the other a violent war game online. The results were very interesting, shocking and reinforced our decision to step away from Fortnite. I’d love for parents reading this to watch this and share this with their kids, it helps to explain the adverse effects of particular types of gaming.
As parents we are do need to embrace technology, as it’s not going to go away. Just be mindful to set clear limits, and stay informed about what your child is accessing online. It could even be an idea to try any game out with your child before you give them free access to it so you can make an informed decision after knowing what is involved. It shows that you as the parent are trying to see what the game is about by showing interest too.
It’s also so important to keep the line of communication open with your child so that if they experience any form of bullying (cyberbullying or other types of bullying) they can come to you and talk it through. And as much as you can try to avoid letting your child get into violent online games like Fortnite!