Pandemic Kids: Three Crucial Ways To Calm Adult Anxiety Over Screen Time

The last few years there have been growing concerns over the amount of time children spend playing video games. Headlines in newspapers and academic research have focused on the topic of screen time, video game addiction, gambling habits and online dangers.

Not surprisingly, with children playing more games than ever over the last year, many parents and carers are concerned about the impact this will have on their development and mental health.

I have researched this topic deeply over the last few years as I wrote my Taming Gaming book Speaking to parents, child development experts, children’s charities, psychologists and statutory bodies I found some really helpful ways to guide parents through this confusing issue.

1. Screen-Time Isn’t The Issue

Although many headlines point to too-much screen time as being damaging, the truth is that this is a muddled way to guide children to technological health. The issue isn’t how much time they are spending at the screen, but what is happening on it. A child may use a device for school in the daytime, move on to a game in the afternoon, call a grandparent in the evening and read a book with a parent before bed.

In the same way that we don’t worry about plate time, but what is on our children’s plates. Similarly, we need to focus on what is happening on the screen rather than how much time they spend on it. 

While we, of course, need to ensure a healthy balance of inside and outside play, a really powerful thing parents can do is to introduce a wider range of digital activities if children are drawn to the same thing over and over. 

The Family Video Game Database offers lists of unusual games that can diversify this diet of digital gaming:
Games To Get Children Reading
Games That Offer Calm
Games That Build Resilience

2. Play Games Together

Another concern about video games is how they cause conflict and draw children away from other family activity. I speak to many parents distraught at trying to get children to stop their game at a meal time, or come out for family walks. It can seem like all children want to do is play their game -- and when they aren’t playing they are planning and plotting for the next session.

A powerful thing parents can do in this area is to establish video games as a family activity from a young age. By funding games that the whole family plays it can be a regular thing you do together. This goes beyond the usual Mario Kart or Minecraft session to a wide range of imaginative and unusual games for you to play together.

Of course, it’s hard to find these games when you don’t know what’s out there. That’s why I create some lists of games to help you get started. For example, I have over a hundred games you can play together in the same room You can then filter these lists to suit the age of your children and technology in your home:
Collaboration games for PEGI 7 and under
Collaboration games on the Switch
Collaboration games for four people

3. Play Games Yourself

I’ve left this tip for last because it is the hardest to grasp. A big part of the challenge of video games is that we parents and carers are outsiders. We see games as a form of entertainment we hope our children will outgrow. While some will, games are actually a new for of media that many children will play for their whole lives.

Making the switch to understand games as media opens the door to a better understanding. Games tell stories. They help us make sense of the world. They are worlds we can go and explore. And they address as diverse a range of topics as books, films or music.

The most powerful way to understand this is to find games you want to play yourself. This may sound like a strange idea, but there are loads of games designed for adults that are about mature and interesting topics. To get you started I’ve created a list of games that I have suggested to hundreds of non-gaming parents who have been surprised by the experience they find.

These are games that are quick to play, available for next to no money on devices you already own. They are about topics as diverse as love, loss, hope, parenting, cancer, refugees or the power of laughter. 


This advice will be quite different from what you have heard elsewhere. It is important to set limits and ensure age appropriateness of content. Doing this with a child is a great opportunity to talk about these things together. You can then set automatic limits on the console or computer they play on.

But in the long term, getting to grips with games yourself is just as important. Anchoring games as part of family life can transform the conversations you have in your home. Games can stop being a point on conflict and start being something that contributes to family life.


Andy Robertson, 16/05/2021
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