KIDS
January 23, 2020

Parents Don't Always Know Best

Parents can be a bit delusional when it comes to how much time their kids spend gaming. But there's good news, too.

Most parents — about nine out of 10 — think their sons and daughters spend too much time playing video games, according to a new C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. As you can see in the slide above, they take a variety of steps to try to reduce the time their kids spend playing. Even so, most parents of kids who play daily mistakenly think their child's gaming habits are in line with those of their peers.

Parents of boys are twice as likely to say their child spends too much time on games. And boys are more likely to play video games for three or more hours a day, the poll found.

Parents of the most frequent gamers appear to have a blind spot when it comes to how much time their child spends playing compared to others

“Although many parents believe video games can be good for teens, they also report a number of negative impacts of prolonged gaming,” said Mott Poll, co-director and Mott pediatrician Gary Freed, in a statement. “Parents should take a close look at their teen's gaming behavior and set reasonable limits to reduce harmful impacts on sleep, family and peer relationships and school performance.”

Even though over 70 percent parents believe video games can have a positive effect on their teen, over half of them say they make an effort to monitor and restrict video game content.

How involved parents are when it comes to monitoring video game content and time spent gaming depends somewhat on their teen's age. Over 40 percent of parents of younger teens, ages 13 to 15, pay attention to video game rating systems to establish the appropriateness of content. They also are more likely to encourage their child to play video games with others and not to allow gaming in their teen's bedroom. Only 18 percent of parents of older teens said they checked the games their teens played for content.

One of the most surprising findings of the poll was that parents of the most frequent gamers appear to have a blind spot when it comes to how much time their child spends playing compared to others. “Many parents of frequent gamers have a misconception that the amount of time their teenager spends playing video games is in line with their peers,” Freed said.

The poll found that 78 percent of parents whose children spend three or more hours a day playing video games thought their teen's gaming was less than or about the same as their peers. And only 13 percent of this group of parents of daily gamers believed the three-plus hours their son or daughter spent was more than that of their peers.

Teens with attention deficits are particularly vulnerable. The constant positive feedback and stimulation of video games can lead them to play for long periods, and neglect school work and their social lives, the researchers warn.

Gaming is not all bad. It can open doors and provide a channel of communication, especially when parents play with their kids. “With appropriate boundaries and supervision, video games may be a fun way for some children to enjoy time with each other and for parents to connect with their kids,” explained Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician and researcher at Mott in an article on the poll.

Not only does playing together show parents are taking an active interest in what their teen enjoys, it can be a way to connect and give them a chance to model how to set limits on play. It can also be a way to be sure the privacy settings they have in place are strong and to help their teens understand that the limits and rules around gaming are tied to concerns about safety, health, school and relationships.

Parents should also set clear rules about appropriate content and how much time is too much time spent on video games, said Freed. “While many parents see benefits in gaming, the activity should not be at the expense of face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers who play a pivotal role in promoting a teen's learning and healthy development.”

Over 960 parents who had at least one child age 13 to 18 years took part in the poll. The report can be downloaded here.

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