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Managing screens while learning from home
Getting help with gaming issues
Gaming addiction is difficult to identify, as there are currently no diagnostic criteria that health professionals will go by to identify an issue. At this age, parents can look out for serious emotional outbursts when either demanding gameplay or wanting to stay on their games, physical outbursts such as hitting or kicking, and a constant fixation and drive for access to their technology. If you notice any seriously problematic behaviours or emotional frenzies, it may be best to seek advice from your GP or health professional.
Techno tantrums can be influenced and fuelled by a number of things. The short of it is that their developing brains are immersed in something fun and engaging, and it can be both cognitively disruptive and emotionally disappointing to be asked to stop something that they are finding enjoyable. Young children need help with regulating their emotions anyway, let alone when it comes to technology! To help young children, try the 'connect and redirect' trick. Connect with the feeling in order to validate it, and redirect to another activity or positive point of interest. To prevent the tantrum next time, set clear time boundaries before play starts and sit with them during gameplay to encourage communication & 'real world' connection.
We have to be honest, disputing an in-app purchase can be a difficult and time-consuming process with varying degrees of success. So, the first thing to decide is if you should dispute the transaction or go directly to setting up precautions to ensure that this doesn't happen again.
Contact the app store as soon as possible to request a refund. For information on how to lodge a refund request on:
Depending on the circumstances, it may also be appropriate to contact your bank to discuss any unauthorised charges appearing on your credit card and your mobile phone provider about unauthorised charges appearing on your bill.
If you have a dispute about charges that you can’t resolve with your service provider, contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.
You can choose to disable in-app purchases completely or to require a passcode for every in-app purchase. For instructions on how to set these restrictions on Apple and Android devices, see here.
Ideally, children in this age range should not have access to their devices overnight. Recommended steps to help enforce this include:
Young children often give out their passwords to others on gaming platforms, as other players entice them for their login details by offering prizes or rewards (such as free Robux on Roblox).
Resetting the password on the account is the first step in securing their account. If you don't have access anymore, you can reset the password in the initial login screen by selecting 'I forgot my password' (or some variation of this). Make sure the new password isn't similar to the previous password.
If there is still a problem, you can try to report the issue to the gaming platform itself (if this feature is available). In this case, try deleting the account and creating a new one, with a new username and secure password.
To prevent the issue from happening again, have a discussion with your child about the importance of keeping passwords safe and private (this resource can help). To model good practices, you may even start using a reputable password manager (like Dashlane) to set and securely store account passwords on your child's behalf.
It's not uncommon for young children to download dozens (sometimes hundreds) of free games. Given the ease of free downloads, children love exploring different games and trying out apps that they see kids playing on YouTube. While kids are only doing this out of curiosity and a sense of fun, the more games that they download, the higher the risk of accessing an inappropriate game or driving excessive use of technology. To prevent your child from downloading games without your permission you can set up restrictions on the relevant application centre/store. For iPhones/iPads, instructions for restricting downloads can be found here. For Android and Google devices, instructions can be found here.
At this age, we strongly recommend blocking access to gambling simulation games. While children may not be gambling real money or items of value, the reaction within their brain is the same as if they were gambling real valuable items. This is not a positive neural experience for a child so young. Parents can use parental control filters to block access to these types of games, or you can even look to see if your existing cybersecurity antivirus software (such as Norton or McAfee) allow you to turn on filters to block gambling websites. Keep in mind that even viewing others gambling can elicit the same effect in your child's brain, so blocking websites such as Twitch and Steam would also be helpful.
At this age, we don't recommend kids access games that are not designed for educational purposes. However, if kids have been contacted by a stranger, try to stay calm. It's important here to strike a balance between protecting your child but not inciting too much curiosity.
Our recommended steps:
Although it seems like the obvious way of thinking about 'gaming addiction', health professionals don't just focus on the amount of time kids play for, but the behaviours surrounding the gameplay. In addition to long hours on their devices, kids suffering from problematic gaming often exhibit other behaviours such as emotional outbursts, showing less interest in other activities that they otherwise enjoyed, lying about their game time or concealing their devices, and less time spent socialising. It's also important to know that children who have been diagnosed with developmental disorders (ADHD, ASD, etc.), may be more vulnerable to developing problematic gaming behaviours. If you notice any of these behaviours, it may be helpful to seek advice from your GP or health professional.
Children's brains (just like adults) are task-orientated, and kids experience positive emotions when playing games due to the activity that is going on in their brain when they meet a certain task or goal in the game. When this is interrupted kids can experience spikes in neural activity that may result in a negative emotional outburst. Plus, it's just no fun to stop something that's enjoyable. To help kids avoid the digital meltdown, set a clear limit before gameplay starts, and 10 minutes prior to the end time go and sit with them, discussing what activity will be next. This helps prime their brains that the task they are currently focussed on will finish soon, so the ending is less abrupt. Once time is up, allow them a few minutes to finish their task, and then switch off. Having a transition activity ready to go after this (something physical like a dog walk is great!) then helps their brain focus attention on other things, helping to de-escalate emotional responses.
Children of this age should have very clear limits to their game time, including a set 'off' time at night. Research indicates that ideally, this is at least an hour before bedtime. A helpful strategy for this age group is to also ensure that bedrooms become a device-free area at night time. Although parents often leave hand-held devices like iPads or Nintendo Switches in bedrooms, kids' brains are not developed enough to control their impulses, which means little fingers often go looking for devices at night time.
If your child's account has been hacked, the following steps should be considered:
At this age, children are heavily driven by their peer group. Therefore, we often find at this age group kids will download the apps that their friends are playing, whether you have given them permission to or not! What this often results in though is kids downloading and using apps that parents have expressly said no to, and kids begin to use games that are not age-appropriate. If you want to restrict app downloads, you can follow the manual instructions for iPhones/iPads here or Android/Google devices here. However, at this age, kids are advanced in their technical know-how, and can usually find a way to override your manual settings. In this case, we recommend the use of a parental control tool to provide you with more options over screen-time and app use and to decrease the ease of hackability by your child. Our recommended parental control tool is Family Zone.
Online casinos and roulette wheels are still common online, however, kids also commonly engage in gambling simulations that involve skins or prizes for their favourite games. Parents can use parental control filters to block access to these types of games, or you can even look to see if your existing cybersecurity antivirus software (such as Norton or McAfee) allows you to turn on filters to block gambling websites. Keep in mind that even viewing others' gambling can elicit the same effect in your child's brain, so blocking websites such as Twitch and Steam would also be helpful. We also recommend teaching kids about the risks of gambling and focussing on positive messaging around healthy screen & media use.
Many of the games popular with this age group have the potential to allow children to connect and play with strangers. Games that do not contain settings that allow you to restrict this feature are generally not recommended for this age group. If you haven't done so already, we recommend that parents look into whether chat can be restricted on the games that your child is playing.
Another point to consider before you act is what is the nature of the communication with the stranger? Games like Among Us, for example, require stranger interaction to figure out who the "Imposter" is, which is required to win the game. Apps like Roblox might have strangers contact kids for the purpose of a general chat. Unless it's strictly task-related, then the communication may need to be addressed. If they have been contacted by someone who is unknown, react in a calm way and take steps to minimize the ability for the stranger to contact your child. Block the stranger's username and find a new room, server or area for your child on the game.
When we think about 'gaming addiction', we don't just focus on the number of hours a child is playing. Instead, we focus on the impact that the gameplay is having on the child's life, and how gameplay might be impacting other healthy areas of development such as their social activities, physical health or schooling. At this age, signs of problematic gaming can include social isolation and disengagement from other leisure activities, impacts on sleep and physical exercise, lying about or minimising the amount of time they have been playing, and emotional outbursts or agitation. If you notice any of these changes, it would be worthwhile consulting your doctor about support options that may be available.
Meltdowns at this age become a little more complicated because a key question parents need to ask themselves is "why?" Some teens will become so immersed in their game that being disrupted can set off a panic response in their brain. Other teens will be invested in the social element of the game, sometimes being required by friends or teammates to continue to play so the team isn't impacted. For some adolescents, it could be all of those reasons and more.
To minimise meltdowns, teens benefit from having a clear, set screen schedule to communicate with their peers. Secondly, when it's off time, it's ideal to give teens a buffer time to allow them to finish up on the game they're playing. Many modern games don't offer the ability to save the player's position, so ending abruptly could hinder their progress significantly. Allow them to finish up their game, and then transition to a new activity.
During the early teens, there can be more resistance to following rules around screen time, however, it's extremely important to maintain hygiene rules around screen time limits.
Recommended steps are:
It’s also a good idea to have an open conversation about the impacts of screen time on sleep and wellbeing and collaborating on ideas for a healthier screen schedule.
Kids at this age are entering into their developmental stage that is characterised largely by autonomy and independence. It's not surprising then that young teens are making their own choices about what games they want to download. While this might not be a major problem, parents should still be aware of the age ratings of the games that their kids are playing. If you would rather your child not download certain games, we suggest that a parental control tool is your best bet to managing app downloads and reviewing age-appropriateness before your kids can use the app. Manual settings at this point will be a breeze for your child to get around.
Adolescence is a vulnerable age when it comes to screen exposures and normalising problematic online behaviours. At this age, teens may also migrate over to gambling with real money or items of value.
The best strategies for safeguarding against gambling problems are:
Teens in this age bracket are at a critical age for peer recognition and guidance is needed to make positive choices. Many of the age recommendations change at this stage, resulting in your teen playing games alongside both peers and strangers. Contact with strangers is an inevitable part of the online world, so parents may want to strike a balance between safety settings & teaching kids about safe online communication.
We recommend discussing with your teen the importance of privacy settings on games. It’s important then to have open and frequent discussions and ask open questions about their online interactions. If your teen is distressed by unwanted contact in games, encourage them to take screenshots and report this to the platform, followed by a report to the local eSafety authority if nothing occurs on the platform.
At this age, problematic gaming behaviours can have quite a significant impact on a teen's everyday life. It's likely that's what you're seeing as a parent. Signs of excessive gaming typically include complete disengagement from social relationships or activities, playing games late into the night, changes in eating habits (e.g. snacking while playing instead of eating main meals), serious impacts on study or work commitments, and coercive behaviours around technology use. If you are concerned about your child, it would be helpful to engage your doctor, and potentially look into additional support such as a psychologist.
Emotional 'meltdowns' in late adolescence should be becoming less and less common (not completely gone, but just lessening slightly!), so if these are still frequent around tech use, then it might be worth looking into more as a parent. What is causing the 'meltdown' is likely to be linked to what is driving the behaviour. For example, a teen who is extremely stressed about exams, and using gaming as a coping strategy, is likely to have an emotional outburst if the game (their coping strategy) is being threatened to be taken away. Alternatively, a teen may be experiencing bullying at school, and playing their game connects them with their only source of positive social relationships. Avoid hard penalties for meltdowns, and try instead to opt for communication & understanding to get to the core of the issue.
The average teen spends 2 hours a day online and their technology habits may be well established. Your teen would know about the potential dangers of gaming, and how inadequate sleep affects wellbeing. Gaming may be used to temporarily escape homework, or difficult peer or family relationships.
If your teen is showing concerning behaviours speak to a psychologist that has experience with teens and challenging behaviours.
Conversation will be your best tool to use when addressing your concern with an older teen. At this age, a collaborative conversation is more powerful (and less combative) than tough restrictions or settings. We recommend sitting with your child and openly discussing your concerns, exploring the 'why' of your concerns in detail. Ask your child about their thoughts on this, and use the communication time to come to a shared solution. Make sure that during this conversation, you are openly listening to your child's thoughts & opinions. If you are really adamant about restricting downloads, you can utilise a parental control tool, and use behavioural consequences and opportunities to influence behaviour change.
Depending on the frequency of involvement in gambling simulation-style games or sites, research suggests that teens in this age bracket experience fewer negative outcomes than younger children and teens. It's still helpful to monitor the frequency of access to games, and whether or not your teen has started gambling with real money or items of value. By and large, open communication and education is the best strategy to support older teens when it comes to accessing gambling websites. If you feel gambling is becoming more of a problem, it may be helpful to seek advice from the school psychologist or counsellor or your doctor.
Teens want their independence, but their brain is still developing, and although the research shows most teens want a positive experience online, they can still make poor choices.
Education and communication are critical to your teen understanding that not everyone has good intentions towards their safety and privacy. Teach your teen how to manage privacy settings, and how to stay safe while chatting to strangers (not giving out private personal information, keeping up-to-date with the latest privacy settings for the games/apps that your teen uses) and encourage an open line of communication about safety practices. Engage with your teen in open conversations about communicating safely when using technology and what to look out for when interacting with strangers.
Seek out professional help if your teen has had a persistent distressing experience from an interaction with a stranger.