There is always something. In our parenting guide, parents discuss the issues that come with the best families with experts. Today, Alexander B. Worried about his 12-year-old son’s media consumption.
It started during Corona. There wasn’t much to learn at school and Max couldn’t see his friends anymore. It was then that Max’s parents became generous: like many other families, they significantly extended the period during which the 12-year-old was allowed to play computer games. Life has since returned to normal, but Max’s family still has a rough time. Max mainly lives in his own virtual gaming world, isolating himself from family, and other than that, he hardly has any social contacts. His father, Alexander B. Dagmar Preiß, director of Gesundheitsladen eV in Stuttgart, which also includes the consulting center “Jungen * im Blick”, explains how computer games can take up less space in Max’s life once again.
My son easily gambles four hours a day. That’s too much, isn’t it?
This is definitely a lot of time and risky use behavior. Did you see what he’s doing there?
No, no games.
Take a look at exactly what Max does. Parents notice that the child is using the computer more than usual and immediately think: this is bad. But often kids do amazing things on the computer and open up new worlds for themselves. Let us show you what he’s playing and what role he likes to be in as a player. Then you also understand why games can be so great. In addition, computer games for boys definitely have a social component, they do not play alone, but communicate with others. Some children feel very withdrawn in school, but develop a different identity through play and then show entirely new sides of their personality.
But spending too much screen time is not good for kids!
This is true, but it is difficult when you ignore your son’s behavior so much. Some kids only like to do certain things. Parents are involved in many areas, for example when it comes to a sport or a musical instrument. But if a child likes to get involved in the media, understanding stops quickly. So parents don’t care so much what their sons are doing there, but for how long they’ve been doing it. The focus should be on both.
After school, my son disappeared into his room and barely got out of it. Should I be worried?
Four hours of gambling is too much for a twelve-year-old, especially if he plays it regularly, say five days a week. At the age of twelve, your son still has a lot to learn, not only for school but also socially, so at this age it is very important to pay attention to social activities within the family, such as eating meals together. After school, your kid does not have to sit in front of the computer to play games, it would be better if he takes a rest first. Agree with your son when he can play, when he does his homework, and when you eat together.
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So we need some kind of home schedule?
Structure – and you provide your child with these regulations. In addition, it will be important for her son to have at least one social contact with his peers outside of school per week. Adolescents have many developmental tasks during puberty, for example they must become more independent and this includes building good relationships with their peers. This requires real and physical contact – a quick hug or five counts. This cannot be transferred to the virtual world in the same way.
He goes to soccer practice once a week, is that enough?
Yes, football or any other hobby is important as long as the child is present with his peers. But it will be important for your son to talk and talk while playing football. There are children who go to training and do not say hello or goodbye. During puberty, it is normal for young people to withdraw a little from society, but they should not isolate themselves too much – however, the world of media tempts them to do so. That is why parents should make sure that people of the same age do not sleep completely.
Is my son addicted to gambling?
I would be very careful with the term addiction. Your kid consumes a lot of media and it may be too much. But look at other factors, too. What else does your son do, is he still in contact with you as his parents? Does he still talk to you in a friendly way or is he just defensive? Media consumption is one thing, but you also have to think about how the child will behave socially outside of this media world. Does your son wake up easily in the morning? He may do so under protest, but it is critical that he continues to comply with this request. Or what happens if you ask him to play a game or watch a movie together once a week? Does he do it then? Or is he mostly angry and refuses joint activities or contacts.
What are the obvious signs of addiction?
When a child becomes very aggressive when asked to stop playing. Of course, no child is excited about it. But if he starts hitting his parents, yelling at them, physically attacking his siblings, and if he breaks all the rules — like turning Wi-Fi back on when it’s switched off — these are signs that could lead to a gambling addiction.
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What is the first step to reduce gaming consumption?
Don’t just challenge: you only have 2 hours left to play! At the same time, make presentations to your son about what he can do instead. They don’t have to be high-threshold games like parlor games, but I test in advising that many kids want this from their parents. Many actually say: I want to play something once a week. Most parents seem surprised.
Does turning off WiFi help?
Yes, but not as a single measure, but turn off WiFi and serve something, for example: we bake something together or we go to the cinema together. Or maybe your kid just wants to hang out in bed. Everything in the body and brain changes during puberty, which is why many children feel very tired at times. However, you should not discuss alternatives to computer games in conflict situations. Tell your son that you want to talk to him about his media consumption and possible alternatives. Twelve-year-olds should be taken seriously, and they should have time outside of an acute conflict situation to prepare for such a conversation. Set an appointment and then work on changes and solutions together.
Why shouldn’t I just unplug the router?
Pulling the plug comes at some point in many families, but it shouldn’t be the first step. Make your kid responsible for his media consumption. For example, make a pact about certain days your son plays and the days he doesn’t play. For example, do not play for two days and reduce the remaining time a little. But also ask your son what he should give. In the first step, children are often radical towards themselves. They often say: I no longer play from Monday to Friday, only on weekends. It is worth letting the child make the first suggestion and then see if the parents agree. In this case, make sure to limit what is negotiated to a specific period of time, say four weeks. If after the first week you notice that it’s not working, you can address the child and say, “One possible outcome for us now is that we’re pulling the plug without further notice.”
But if you really suffer from all the conceivable consequences, it will put a great stress on our family life. Then we won’t have one nice evening.
Yes, that’s true, but they will continue to have not particularly nice nights for the foreseeable future. Parents underestimate the fact that you have to be present again at the beginning of puberty. You really have to fight some things, even if kids were very smart up to that point, at 13 or 14, they’re not necessarily that smart anymore. And when disagreements arise, some parents fear for their children. Also, some parents are too tired from a fight and then let their kids go early.
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How am I supposed to get past this?
takes a stand. So you have to know that it will be stressful, even after you find the rules for a particular problem. You need to be prepared for the fact that there will be phases when you will not have peace and quiet in the evening. Being present does not mean being physically present all the time. But that means taking responsibility. If you negotiate with your son now about the rules of computer games, he will have a hard time before the summer holidays. Rules are only useful if you can check them – if you check something, you’re there. As a parent, it would be hard to go out for ten hours, come home at 8 p.m. and then say, “You can’t play between 4 and 6 p.m…” a sign that you’re watching over agreements. Then it comes to the children: someone is interested in me, and my parents stay with me.
I can’t go home at 4 pm.
Then, for example, your WLAN shuts down until 6pm, you agree to eat together at 6pm, and then your kid can play for two hours at a time. In puberty, parenting no longer works in such a way that the parents go first and the children follow. Teens lead the way and adults have to change their position depending on the situation. Sometimes they have to take a step to the side and sometimes a little back.
My wife does not find our son’s playing behavior exaggerated as I do. Am I hysterical
It’s a good idea to come to an agreement as a couple before communicating with the child. It is important to function as a community. “Your dad thinks we have to cut back on computer games somehow, which is why we’re all sitting here right now” would be a stupid start to a family conversation. Parents or mothers often want to delegate responsibility for the conflict to the other parent. However, this is very disturbing for children and hence they have no motivation to change their behavior as long as the level of the parents is at odds.
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Dagmar Preiß is a Sociologist (MSc), General Therapist and Trainer (SG).
Dagmar Press is the co-founder of Girls’ Health Shop and Managing Director of E Health Shop in Stuttgart. This foundation is a non-profit association for the promotion and prevention of gender health in Stuttgart and has three counseling centers for children, youth and adults. Girls’ Health Shop is a prevention and counseling center for girls and young women in the areas of health promotion, sexuality education and prevention of addiction and violence.