The world has changed dramatically in the last few months and the use of e-Learning resources has grown at a phenomenal rate. Furloughed workers are being encouraged to take up free online courses in digital skills so that they are better equipped to work remotely and to improve their employability when lockdown ends.
Many school lessons are being delivered online, new online resources have been developed and many educational technology companies, including Gooseberry Planet are offering free access to their platforms during the crisis. This enables children to continue their learning despite school closures and gives children a focus and structure to their days. I expect it will lead to lasting changes in our use of educational technology.
But from my experience, school lessons can be finished much more quickly than a normal school day and the chances are that many children are taking advantage of their time at home to enjoy their favourite online games. Parents are probably relieved that children are making contact with their friends and are happily occupied, leaving them free to get on with their own work. But they may also be concerned about too much screen time as well as other online risks.
I am quite a fan of online gaming so long as it is age-appropriate and not played to excess, especially not during family mealtimes! For today’s children, both boys and girls, it is a normal part of life and it is particularly important for children in lockdown to be able to socialise with school friends, avoid boredom, distract themselves from worries and generally have fun. Games can operate as a type of social network for younger children to chat to each other about things other than gaming. They can also develop skills such as teamwork and strategic thinking.
So, a brief reminder of how to make sure that this activity is enjoyed safely during lockdown. As with most things, having a conversation with children and setting some ground rules are important.
Firstly, screen time. Gaming can be addictive, and children may also feel pressured to play for longer than they wish by their peers. Many devices and platforms now have features which track screen time, and this is a good way to highlight to children how much time they spend online. Even without this, the good old alarm clock or timer will do the trick. For younger children, restricting use of devices to public rooms in the home helps to keep an eye on usage. Although it can be difficult in lockdown, mixing sedentary activities with physical ones is important for both physical and mental health. Perhaps try an online exercise session (I love Jo Wicks, The Body Coach) if outdoor space is not available.
Content: Use PEGI ratings and reviews to check that games are age-appropriate and whether they include in-game purchases. Many games require payment to improve features such as “skins”, upgrade to higher levels and some promote loot boxes which are akin to gambling. Children may feel under pressure from peers to buy these things. Ensure they are not able to run up bills on your account! Different devices have different methods of controlling spending in their settings but if you link your child’s account to your parent account, you can keep control of spending. Don’t forget to keep the adult password private!
Contact: The average age of a gamer is 28 and half of 36-50 year olds play games. Although most are simply enjoying the game, children should exercise caution about who they play with. Very young children should only play games with real life friends and you should help them to set up their accounts with a gamer tag and avatar that doesn’t reveal their real name or image. Older children will likely want to play multi-player games. Help them to set their accounts to private and encourage them to turn off their microphones so that they cannot speak to players they don’t know and remind them not to accept invitations to play privately with unknown players. They should also be wary of those trying to scam them for their personal information or passwords in return for access to tips or improved game play. Empower them with the knowledge that it’s OK to ignore unwanted communication or just say “no” to anyone they don’t know who contacts them during a game.
Conduct: The same rules apply online as offline and children should be guided about their responsibility to play fairly and behave kindly. Unfortunately, gamers can experience bullying, teasing, swearing and other bad behaviour. The use of headsets and a perceived lack of consequences for poor behaviour online can contribute to this. Prepare children for this possibility, explain that it can be upsetting and that they should leave the game and tell a trusted adult if they are targeted. Show them the tools to mute their own and other players’ microphones or block and report behaviour which breaks the platform rules.
I wish you and your families safe gaming and good health.