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With school closures, children attending school twice or three times a week, and alternative teaching measures – most parents can agree that the lockdown has had them spending even more time with their children at home and what this means that for most households, this is an increase in online content consumption and an increased reliance on digital solutions to keep children connected for educational and entertainment reasons. 

Data released last year by Kaspersky Safe Kids, an app designed to help parents protect kids online and beyond, indicated that the overall number of website visits by children between January and March, grew by 200%. This does of course include online video content.

In the past three weeks, we explored the basics, the upside and downside to e-gaming. As we continue bringing you, the parent into the world of gaming, this week, we gather tools from Clinical Psychologist who has a special interest in working with children, Julia Mathabathe as well as fitness experts, Yolisa Hamilton and Belinda Netshipise – on how to better manage your child’s gaming activities, to avoid mental and physical health risks. 

“As mentioned in your three previous blog posts, e-gaming has its advantages and disadvantages. When parents are aware of their child’s e-gaming activities, it gives them context, in terms of what kind of gaming they engage in – whether it’s during or in the absence of parents or guardians, this can give parents a safer feeling, knowing what their child is playing and getting up to in their games,” says Mathabathe.

She further emphasises on how children who consume too many video games could end up with inconsistency in sleep therapy/patterns, increased anxiety, academic decline, interpersonal relationship difficulties, and in some cases, suicide.

Mathabathe warns that there are quite a few potential dangers that could occur when children consume too many video games.

Potential mental health dangers when children consume too much video games: 

  1. Sleep therapy/patterns. 

“Regarding sleep therapy or patterns, most parents have rules in the household when it comes to bedtime, for example, at a certain time, lights go out and you should be in bed already with all gadgets/video games off.
If a child is gaming up until bedtime or past it, this could negatively affect the child’s sleeping patterns, and we know if a child does not get enough hours of sleep it can cause in some cases depressive feelings, irritability, and or headaches,” says Mathabathe.

Fitness specialist, Yolisa Hamilton says parents can introduce relaxation exercises, 15 minutes prior to bedtime. “Focus on igniting calm, harmonious breathing patterns. Soft, non-instrumental music works best to maintain the mood. Speak encouraging words and read to your child, this will assist to get into a consistent bedtime routine”, she advises.

  1. Anxiety 

Mathabathe indicates that when it comes to the issue of anxiety, most of the time, children get excited for a new game or next level in a game. “In most cases, you’ll find children anxiously and impatiently waiting to get back to that game, and this can cause anxiety.”

Belinda Netshipise, Fitness Trainer and Founder of Gainz Wellness warns that parents should not ignore anxiety and recommends the following;

  • Practice meditation. Children can start meditating from a young age. Yoga is a great way to help your child. (Check out benefits of introducing Yoga to your children here)
  • Play mindful games. Play games that remind the child of their surroundings (for example, notice 5 things around you).
  • Incorporate any form of exercise. Choose an exercise that your child enjoys, to help ease the anxiety. This could be through running, cycling, martial arts or dancing. Turn it into a game. Olwethu and Fitness Expert, Reneilwe Kgengwe share how to go about getting your kids active in detail on The Sit Down, check it out here.
  1. Academic decline. 

“With regards to academic decline, a child could end up being less motivated to do schoolwork because the child is always focusing on the games (constantly thinking and being preoccupied with the game). In class you’ll find they are not motivated or putting in maximum effort and this can influence memory and concentration of the child at school,” says Mathabathe. 

  1. Interpersonal Relationship difficulties. 

Mathabathe highlights that when a child is constantly being reminded or reprimanded to do schoolwork or chores at home, it causes conflicts in the household and puts strains on their relationship, as parents find themselves repeating the same instructions. “This overlaps from the family into relationships with friends and so on,” she adds.

Netshipise encourages that parents should initiate family outdoor activities that will promote the overall wellbeing of your child. She also advises that parents should allow children to bring friends over and initiate activities such as jumping on a trampoline. “Play dates are also a good way to merge an active lifestyle and help your child,“ she adds.

  1. Suicide 

“Adolescent and teenage suicide are one of the risks that children may experience. For example, let’s look at the theme. What is the theme of that specific e-game? What is the mood of that child at that moment? If the theme is around suicide and the child is at the point of feeling helpless and being hopeless, the child may learn a coping mechanism which is harmful and one of them being suicide because they feel or have learnt that it helps,” Mathabathe explains.

She adds that if a game is themed around danger, self-harm, and or suicide, a child could end up learning all those things, which is risky behaviour. 

Hamilton recommends that parents develop positive interventions that will balance their child’s physical, spiritual, mental and emotional wellbeing. “There are plenty of games to explore, as well as exercise apps. Introduce these to your child. Participating in extra murals such as sports, musical lessons, debating, etc can help build positive behavioural mechanisms and can help influence positive thinking”, she adds.

“Just touching back on your previous blog posts, where it states that supervision is needed, caregivers and adults need to know the age restrictions, what are the themes and what does the game entail?” queries Mathabathe. 

The Effects of Gaming On Diet and Physical Health

“Most of the time, when children engage in gaming activities, they do so in a seated position. This means less mobility and no fitness or exercise involved. Children will mindlessly consume a lot of snacks and unhealthy food which can cause weight gain and even obesity caused by the repetitive look of gaming – eating – gaming again – and sleeping,” says Mathabathe. 

Dietician, Ria Mojapelo shares the following diet tips for children:

  • Children generally couple video games with snacking on junk food. Replace this by making healthy snack packs for them, including fruits.
  • Create mealtime consistency. Children may be too focussed on gaming and skip meals. 
  • For a healthy increase in concentration, make sure their diet balances their energy. This means eliminating unhealthy high energy foods. 

How To Balance Mental Health And Your Child’s Gaming Activities:

  • Negotiate 

Having a healthy relationship with your child helps a lot, in a sense that things can be openly spoken about, there’s discussions and negotiations which can help psychologically with behavioural modification. For example, when negotiating, you can use something the child wants, to get positive results from them (there’s a new pair of sneakers launching, and for your child to get them, you want an A+ on his test).

  • Maintain Discipline 

“I’m very strict with gaming during the week, especially with school and homework. My rule is, no gaming during the week because we have homework, and extra murals,” says Netshipise.

Mathabathe highlights the importance of discipline as being very important. “For example, If chores are not done, homework is not complete, and the child doesn’t want to take instructions, privileges will now have to be taken away. 

  • Be Open Minded

Start the conversation. Allow your child to help you understand what gaming means to them and what they get from it. Teach your child to open up, even if they feel uncomfortable. 

Wrapping Up

“Communicating with your children, having an open dialogue in your household is so important. Children should know they can come to their parents or guardians with any issue, and that you would do your utmost to help them through it,” says Mathabathe. 

She advises that schedules and rules are important to appropriately allocate time for your child’s homework, chores etc. “Parents can then be able to allocate time for gaming, which can keep your household and children well balanced”, she concludes. 

Next week, we continue with part five of this series, looking at how to prepare yourself financially, for the world of e-gaming.

Clinical Psychologist, Julia Mathabathe can be found at Netcare Akasia in Pretoria North and also at Ekhesu Psychiatric Hospital in Acadia (012 522 1045/ 073 491 5744)