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If you have kids then it’s likely that video games are part of your life. Gaming is the most popular form of entertainment worldwide - so much so that, according to Intenta Digital, there’s around three billion gamers worldwide, which equates to 40% of the global population (1).
Plus, during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Nielson Games Video Game Tracking (VGT), numbers increased by 28% in the UK between March 23 – June 3 2020 (2), with many non-gamers picking up consoles for the first time.
Whether your kids love their gaming consoles or prefer playing online games on a device like a phone or tablet, there are a fair few positives to gaming. Video games offer enjoyable home entertainment, opening up alternative worlds, encouraging gamers to use their imaginations, overcome challenges and learn new skills. One Mumsnetter on our talk forums explained: “My DD (9) has become somewhat of a whiz and has taught herself coding and actually makes a lot of her own games and custom content. It’s something I like to encourage.”
Plus, gaming can combat loneliness by providing a virtual community which also makes it accessible to people with autism, ADHD or learning difficulties. But as with most things in life, video games are best enjoyed in moderation. While most people have a healthy relationship with gaming, some develop unhealthy gaming habits.
What is unhealthy gaming?
Obsessive gaming can lead to physical issues, such as eye strain, bad posture, repetitive strain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome and even ‘gamer’s thumb’ (inflamed thumb tendons) according to Harvard University researchers (3).
Additionally, unhealthy gaming habits may also include accessing age inappropriate content, which may leave your child feeling frightened and confused.
Then there’s the financial cost of gaming. Although many games are free, some include tempting in-app purchases, such as bonus levels. If your child is gaming online, then this is a great time to talk to them about key money concepts such as spending and budgeting. The challenge is to stay in control and keep track of spending, which is not always easy when your child is in the middle of an exciting new game.
It’s also crucial that young gamers are made aware of fraud and what to look out for. Identity theft, money muling and account fraud are unfortunately part of the online world. The HSBC UK Smart Gaming hub includes tips and resources to help children and adults stay safe while enjoying gaming, including animated videos on spending, identity theft and fraud.
The online video game world can seem a perplexing place, when you factor in the ever-evolving technology and jargon. However, it is possible for your child to have fun with gaming, providing they learn to make good choices in order to develop healthy gaming habits.
Here are some top tips on how parents can encourage healthy gaming habits - from parents on our talk boards and from the HSBC UK Smart Gaming hub.
1. Encourage screen-free time
“My DS is younger so we've taken the approach of going out as a family to make sure he has fresh air and screen free time.” WipsGlitter
If your child’s games console is always available, they may instantly turn to it whenever they have a spare moment, rather than reaching for a book, heading outside to play or spending time with family.
For the sake of their mental and physical health, it’s important for your child to balance overall screen time and digital technology use with other activities that are good for their development. These include reading, face to face social time with friends and family, other hobbies such as drawing or building with blocks or playing a sport. As user OnTopOfSpaghetti says about her DS: “He has other interests outside of gaming which really helps.”
2. Set limits
“My DS is 10 we have a diary on the dining table and every morning I write a list of what needs to be done by what time before they are free to do whatever they want…As long as all of these are ticked off by 9pm (bedtime) he can do whatever he wants with his spare time.” Lavende
Parenting is often about establishing boundaries for your child in life - and that applies to gaming too. Children struggle to set their own boundaries and, let’s face it, many would happily stay up staring at a screen until the early hours without your intervention. As this Mumsnetter advises: “Everything in moderation.”
That may mean that your child is only allowed to game at weekends or as a reward for finishing homework or chores. Whatever you decide, it’s down to you to guide them to have gaming limits and understand why it’s important to stick to them. Mumsnetter almightygirl outlines her own family’s gaming boundaries explaining: “8 and 12 year old. They can play Fridays, weekends and in the school holidays. They have to do their homework and chores first.”
3. Teach them gaming etiquette
“They should come off it when asked, with reasonable notice eg "find a checkpoint/finish this round then come off" rather than "switch it off now please". Any refusal to come off, or excessive arguing with siblings etc over the games and they lose access to it for a period of time.” Mumsnet user
It’s normal for a young person to want to spend time gaming on a regular basis4. The point at which it becomes ‘too much’ depends on what is right for your child, and the boundaries you feel comfortable with as a parent.
When a child is fired up by a game and doesn’t want the fun to end, it can be really hard to encourage them to stop playing in order for someone else to have a turn, or for them to get on with doing something else instead.
4. Understand age ratings
“I go by the ratings. In everything….Someone who knows more than me must have concluded that rating wisely.” Wheredidigowrongggggg
Knowing about game age ratings helps you make informed choices about the
games you let your kids play. Just like films, video games are age rated. PEGI - or Pan European Game Information - is a game content rating system used to classify games into appropriate age ratings. Games containing violence or adult content might be classified as PEGI 18, meaning they’re only suitable for people 18 years and over.
All modern devices including consoles, computers, tablets, and smartphones allow you to block games by their PEGI age rating. For further guidance look at HSCB’s Smart Gaming Hub, which has a free downloadable guide to PEGI ratings.
Smart gaming includes staying in control of your money
To help parents and their children be ‘smart gamers’ while playing video games, HSBC developed their Smart Gaming Hub to help children, teens and adults stay in control of their money whenever they play online. The hub includes tips on how to navigate online games safely, ways to spot the bad guys, and keep your identity safe at the same time.
5. Get involved and do your research
“Sometimes I sit with him and help him plan tactics for battles...” BonsaiBear
If your child is fairly young, this Mumsnetter advises: “perhaps having the console in a shared space e.g. living room.” It certainly helps to do your research about the games on offer - and what better way to learn about the gaming world than by immersing yourself in it alongside your child. And as user ScarfLadysBag says: “DH and I are both keen gamers, so I'm sure DD will enjoy playing with us too when she's older. But we understand it and know what games are appropriate, etc. A lot of parents don't understand how consoles work, don't understand what kind of games there are, etc.”
Also - and this is crucial - learn the lingo! Online gaming is actually a lot like Mumsnet in that there are some key acronyms to get to grips with. But it’s less AIBU and more ‘AFK’ (Away from the Keyboard) and ‘FTW’ (For The Win). In gaming, jargon and slang can change quickly, making it difficult to keep up. For more information on gaming jargon, check out HSCB’s Smart Gaming Hub free downloadable jargon glossary.
6. Be clued up about in-game spending
“We have always given a blanket no to this, because it seems to be a quick route to financial ruin, easy to spend money they haven't got, and expensive for what they actually get.” carolinesbaby
You’d be forgiven for thinking that once a game’s been downloaded, you don’t need to buy anything else. But HSBC’s Smart Gaming Hub advises that, whilst many games are free to download they often have opportunities for ‘microtransactions’ built into them that can bump up costs once your child is playing. This might mean the game asks for more money at frequent intervals or key moments in the game, and, if it’s your card details being used, you might see regular small transactions in your bank account.
Talk to your child about ‘small spends’. While 99p might seem like small change, spending can escalate as they progress through a game - as this Mumsnetter described. And make sure they understand the value of gaming currency. Often the ‘money’ used in games is not real - it might be gold coins or gem stones – so make sure your child understands the real costs so that they can moderate their spending. Learn more about in-game spending with the HSBC Smart Gaming Hub’s free in-game spending download.
7. Set parental controls
“A 14yo should have parental control softwares on all the devices he uses, install them! You can block any purchase or set it to ask your approval first.” Mary8076
There are a number of different parental controls you can set. As you can never be completely sure who your kids are interacting with on open gaming platform games, it’s best to disable chat, messaging and sharing if you’re unsure. Mumsnetter Feellikedancingyeah advises: “Make sure you set the children's use to a child account. Lock the game level allowed to age 12 or whatever you think is suitable. Block the voice chat!”
To protect your child from viewing inappropriate content on an internet accessible device, turn on the right parental settings on your browser and set parent passwords. If you allow a certain level of in-app purchases, avoid overspending by setting spending limits and automatic alerts, so you’ll know if your child has bought anything in a game.
8. Help your child track their spending
“I think the most important money rule to remember is ‘it’s only your money once’.” Hollyhead
Teach your child that they won’t be able to buy things they want in the ‘real world’ if they blow all their cash in a virtual world. Prevent overspending by using prepaid cards or gift cards that allow your child to have a specific amount to spend.
HSBC Smart Gaming Hub has a free downloadable spending tracker so your child can jot down any spending they do online. The tracker can also help them decide what it is they would like to start saving for in the real world, and work out how much they would like to put towards it each week. By keeping a control on spending, you can encourage your child to not get caught in the heat of the moment with gaming spends. Mumsnetter thisplaceisweird explained why she doesn’t allow her child to make in-app purchases saying: “I've always said no because it feels like a gateway to online gambling.”
9. Teach them not to share too much online
“Well, mine are all older now, but I would still be insisting that they only have friends that they know in real life, and have met in person at a school / hobby / through family and then they might be able to talk online after that.” BackforGood
It’s not unusual to be contacted by people you don’t know on gaming platforms so teach your child that they can never be certain who they’re chatting to online. For that reason, they should never share personal details online, such as social media accounts, real names, passwords or where they go to school as this could lead to scammers stealing their online identity and accessing their accounts. They should also never agree to meet anyone in real life who they’ve met online, because it could put them in serious danger.
Just like in a game, your child needs to stay safe from real life ‘bad guys’ by staying vigilant, setting strong passwords and keeping personal details safe. Neither should your child agree to accept or send money online - money muling is a common scam target young people, in which stolen money is transferred through your bank account in exchange for payment.
10. Remind them to stay on trusted sites, and tell an adult if they’re worried
“It's so important that not only do they know what's not safe, but that they need to tell you at the time too.” IncessantNameChanger
Help your child understand that, when you’re connected to a gaming network, the console is at risk of spyware and viruses. As big gaming sites monitor activity to keep criminals out, it’s important that your child stays on recognised sites rather than clicking links from strangers, which may take them to unsafe third party sites. Sometimes, children may feel too embarrassed or scared to tell a trusted adult if they think they’ve made a ‘mistake’ online. Reassure your child that they can trust you to help them.
If you or your child feel that they or a friend are in immediate danger while gaming, call 999 and speak to the police. For non-emergencies call 101. If someone keeps pestering your child online, report them to CEOP at the National Crime Agency ceop.police.uk.
If you or your child has been a victim of fraud or if you think that someone may have accessed your personal details / gaming console / computer, you can report this to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 / actionfraud.police.uk or in Scotland, call 101.
About HSBC Smart Gaming Hub
Financial education at an early age can teach children important future life skills. If your child is gaming online, then it is essential that they understand key money concepts such as spending and budgeting. The challenge is to stay in control and keep track of spending which is not always easy when your child is in the middle of an exciting new game.
It’s also crucial that young gamers are made aware of fraud and what to look out for. Identity theft, money muling and account fraud are unfortunately part of the online world. The HSBC UK gaming hub includes tips and resources to help children stay safe while enjoying gaming, including animated videos on spending, identity theft and fraud.
(1) Intenta Digital, link here
(2) Nielson Games Video Game Tracking (VGT), link here
(3) Harvard University, link here
(4) Young Minds, link here