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A Parent’s Guide to Video Games, Technology, and the Internet

How to Be an E-Parent ©2002

Technology is pretty scary to parents. Kids typically know more than they do and the screens seem to be stealing our kids away. Parents typically don’t know what to do. In response to their fear and at times lack of knowledge, I offer an approach to electronics called “E-Parenting.”

Being an “E-parent” does not mean you need to be well-versed in all the technological trends nor understand every parental control system. Protecting your kids from technology is practically impossible.

Being an “E-Parent” means simply to deliberately and consistently be engaged in your child’s electronic life. Also, parents must learn to think critically about technology and not be dogmatic.

While tech and kids can be a problem, it does not have to be.

An example of being dogmatic occurred in the late 40s. Comic books were popular, and children were introduced to Superman. However, a groundswell of fear regarding Superman swept professional and government circles culminating in Senate hearings designed to ban sales of comics to kids.

Dr. Fredric Wertham wrote, “…the effects of these pulp-paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant. Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the ‘comic’ magazine.”

Now, who in their right mind would think Superman comics would result in delusions of grandeur and children jumping off buildings in an attempt to fly? In today’s day and age, we find this thinking foolish.

However, we continue to live in a day and age where this kind of thinking continues to prevail. The prevailing attitude is violent or “M-rated” video games cause children to be violent and aggressive.

In the 2009 court case, Video Software Dealers Association v. Schwarzenegger, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in a 3-0 majority opinion stating the following:

“In sum, the evidence presented by the State does not support the Legislature’s purported interest in preventing psychological or neurological harm. Nearly all of the research is based on correlation, not evidence of causation, and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology as they relate to the State’s claimed interest.

None of the research establishes or suggests a causal link between minors playing violent video games and actual psychological or neurological harm, and inferences to that effect would not be reasonable. In fact, some of the studies caution against inferring causation.”

Research has not proven gaming cause violence. But due to our emotionally wired brains and fear of school shootings, the media and families quickly jump to the conclusion that violent video games are to blame. In reality, school shootings are caused by mental illness and not video games.

Most research suggests that, in moderation, video games have a number of benefits such as improving hand-eye coordination and increasing problem-solving skills. Angry Birds is game most of us have played. In short bursts, this game teaches visual problem-solving and helps kids rehearse executive problem-solving though sequential planning.

Research out of the University of Rochester suggests action games such as Call of Duty or Halo provide training for the real world. Daphne Bavelier states, “Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference.”

In fact, the head of surgery for John’s Hopkins requires his surgeons to play video games for 30 minutes before they can operate.

Socialization skills can also be enhanced by video games. Multiplayer games are very popular and include World of Warcraft and Clash of Clans, all very popular games some consider violent.

These games encourage cooperation with team members. A survey conducted with teachers by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found teachers saw an increase in collaboration among students after playing similar games in their classrooms.

I could share much more research with you explaining the benefits of all types of gaming, but I will stop here. I share this data to let you, the parent, understand how to become an excellent digital parent. You must be willing to look at all angles of a topic, be it an app, a device, or a game, and critically think about how your child is engaged electronically.

Is Instagram bad? Of course, if it is used inappropriately. However, it could be awesome for a child who is an aspiring artist and wants to display their photography skills to the world. However, there is increasing evidence that Instagram increases anxiety and depression in kids. Many tech moguls do not want their kids on social media before the age of 14.  

While there are pros and cons to technology, knowing how to navigate the electronic world is a skill set most parents lack. Actually, many kids’ skill sets are far greater than adults.

Therefore, being successful at parenting your child today requires a back and forth dialogue between parent and child to set boundaries upon and discuss the benefits and risks associated with the digital world.

Being an “E-Parent” is no different than being a parent. People often refer to the “sex talk.” However, to successfully walk a child through issues related to sexuality, sex must be a conversation and not a one-time talk.

Being able to freely and talk with your child about tough topics is the hope of most parents. But the parent must be willing to listen consistently and share information that the child may not have or may not have considered.

The “Tech Talk” is no different than the sex talk. Having early conversations about the benefits and risks of being online is essential to successful parenting. Just saying, “Don’t put personal information online,” is not enough.

Helping them understand the implications of oversharing information as well as the risk of cyberbullying, identity theft, and fraud is an appropriate conversation for a 7-year-old.

Have these talks but more importantly, play games with your child, engage them if they have social media, and set down thoughtful and well-reasoned rules. Being dogmatic and fearful is not the way to parent.

The following are some common questions my clients ask which may help guide you on your “E-Parent” path.


5 Frequently Asked Questions

I predicate my answers to these questions with a philosophy. “M-Rated” means mature and not 17-years-old. If I have a child who gets up for school independently, makes their lunch, completes their homework with good effort, and demonstrates respect, then I consider him or her mature.

I look at the whole child when considering what freedom to allow them regarding electronics. Are they emotionally mature? Do they understand right from wrong? Do I have a good relationship with them and engage in their technological worlds?

If all of these questions, as well as others specific to your family values, are yes, then I adjust my child’s exposure to mature content as is developmentally appropriate.

“Never ever spy on your child ever!”

I allowed my 11-year-old to play several M-rated games including Fallout 4 and Halo 5. He was offended by some of the language, but he also does not curse. He enjoyed the game immensely, and I think in part because he was enjoying the trust I have in his use of electronic media.

Would I let him play Grand Theft Auto? Absolutely not. And to be honest, there are quite a few young men in their 20s who shouldn’t be playing mature video games.


When Should I Give My Child a Phone?

Most kids are getting phones far too early. Be mindful of recognizing the balance between your own family values and those of your child’s friends. The response, “all my friends have one,” is not a valid argument.

Some parents will give a child a phone at age 8 or 10, but I prefer to wait until middle school. Keeping up with kids schedules, soccer games, and playdates can be much easier with texting and appointment reminders.

Also, classroom projects have a strong tech component and having a smartphone can be very useful for your student. Also, the reality of today is kids don’t talk on the phone anymore. Text is the way to communicate. Without the ability to text, your child runs the risk of becoming socially isolated.

Is this a reason to get Instagram or Snap Chat? No. But factoring the variable of a child’s maturity and decision making with appropriate tech boundaries and conversations makes the decision of when to buy your child a phone easier.

There is also a bonus to communicate to your child on a smartphone. I often share funny cat videos and memes with my kids to let them know I think of them during the day.


Should I Let My Child Have an Online Game Account?

Online video game accounts include such things as Xbox Live and Steam. These programs and devices allow for the download of video games either on a device such as an Xbox or PlayStation or on a PC. These accounts allow for socialization during multiplayer games as well as other software features such as Skype and the usual social media apps.

Allowing a child online to play video games exposes them to a variety of difficulties. The ability to interact with strangers and to be exposed to very unsavory conversations is commonplace. I do not believe it is appropriate to have a child under the age of 13 on such an account unless there is appropriate supervision.

Appropriate supervision would mean allowing the parent to hear what the child is saying and what is being said to him through speakers. Using headsets and microphones can come later.

Once a child is of appropriate age in level, these online gaming experiences can be very fun and can connect your child to the world in fascinating ways. I look forward to the day when I can play Xbox live with my kids after they have moved on to college.

“Socialization skills can also be enhanced by video games. Multiplayer games are very popular and include World of Warcraft and Clash of Clans”

And by the way, Google and YouTube are an incredible resource for you in understanding all things technology. All you have to do is search, “how can I set up parental controls on my child’s Xbox,” and there will be multiple videos of someone walking you through this process. The same can be said for iPhones, Android devices, any other future technology which enters your child’s life.


How Much Should I Let My Child Play Video Games or Have Electronics?

A difficult question this is. And I would say there is no hard and fast rule to follow. For some children, being allowed video game time can cause undue strife in a family.

Electronics can cause significant behavior problems in kids who are not mature enough or who have addicting personalities. With these children, it is often best to consult with a professional who can walk you through tailoring game time or electronics specifically for your child.

For most kids, especially during the elementary school years, I tend to severely limit screen time during weekdays. I will occasionally allow this activity depending upon the completion of responsibilities, attitude during the week, and special occasions. During the weekends I will allow a child in elementary school anywhere from one to three hours of gaming time.

Although, balanced with this time is a child’s activities spent outdoors and active. Should the balance start to tip toward electronics versus activity, I will move electronics out of a child’s life to restore balance and to make sure they are connected with their family and their environment.

Without trying to be vague, the amount of time child is spent online or in print screens should be an ongoing conversation between you your spouse or partner and your child. Finding a way to problem solve this issue is a critical thinking skill that may be developed in your child through consistent digital conversation.


Should I Read My Child’s Text Messages and Check Their Internet History?

Now, this is a tricky topic. The short answer is this. Never ever spy on your child ever! However, it is important for you to keep tabs on your child’s conversations. Therefore the underlying rules of technology and communication which have been developed through your ongoing conversations should include guidelines for reviewing text activities.

Some of these may include, never deleting text, giving the phone to a parent whenever asked, and never engaging in emotionally charged conversation via text.

As the child grows older and has demonstrated maturity, honesty, and respect, the need to check communications becomes far less important.

The best outcome you can expect, if you have healthy conversations with your child, is that your child will come to you with inappropriate messages or pictures rather than you discovering them on your own. That is the definition of trust and responsibility in a technology savvy and safe child.


What Do I Do About Social Media?

Social media includes apps, online gaming, and other platforms. Increasingly, all technology is becoming social which further emphasizes the need for a relationally focused and decision-making conversation with your child rather than a technology-specific talk.

“Many tech moguls do not want their kids on social media before the age of 14.”

For example, Twitter has become popular among educators. Teachers can collaborate and share information in real time. Social media can allow students to collaborate in a variety of ways.

Also, even shy students tend to speak into these conversations allowing them to participate as well. With all social media, the foundation of privacy and the recognition of online social rules continue to apply.


Summary on Being an E-Parent

Thinking about technology and your child can be a daunting task and may feel exceptionally overwhelming. Think about technology as an ongoing conversation built on trust and honesty. Information does not hurt. More information in children’s lives allows them to make better choices because the mystery is gone.

If you get overwhelmed or feel confused, remember to search Google for some answers. The answers are often there.

As a resource to judge how you’re doing is a questionnaire at the end of this article allowing you to gauge the technological safety of your home and the technological prowess you possess.

Also, there is a sample code of conduct contract focusing on technology. Feel free to adapt these to your family. Technology can be fun and bring you closer to your child. It’s not something to be feared, but it begins with an honest conversation.

Technology is pretty scary to parents. Kids typically know more than they do and the screens seem to be stealing our kids away. In response to their fear and at times lack of knowledge, I offer an approach to electronics called the "E-Parent". Here is a parent's guide to video games, technology, and the Internet!


Sample Online Code-of-Conduct Contract:

I will…

  • Talk with my parents to discuss the rules for using the Internet and other electronic media including where I go, what I can do, when I can go online and how long I can be connected.
  • Never give out personal information about myself or my family including addresses phone numbers or other valuable information without my parents’ permission.
  • Always to my parents immediately if I see or receive anything electronically or in the mail which makes me feel uncomfortable or threatened.
  • Never agreed to meet anyone in person that I have met online without my parents’ permission.
  • Never send pictures of myself or other family members to other people electronically without first checking with my parents.
  • Never give out passwords to anyone including my best friends other than my parents.
  • Not do anything electronically that would hurt another person or is against the law.
  • Never do anything on the Internet that costs money without first asking permission from my parents.
  • Never download, install, or copy anything from disks or the Internet without permission.
  • Let my parents know my login information and usernames for the accounts and apps listed below:

_____________________          ___________________             ____________________

_____________________          ___________________             ____________________

Name (child) ___________________________       Date ___________________________
Parent or guardian _______________________      Date ___________________________
Parent or guardian _______________________      Date ___________________________

Click here to read more articles by Dr. Frank Gaskill!

Dr. Frank Gaskill
Dr. Frank Gaskill is a licensed psychologist and co-founder of Southeast Psych, Psych Bytes, and Shrink Tank. He works with individuals on the Autism spectrum and consults on the development of Autism programs and private practice development across the country. Dr. Gaskill is the co-author of Max Gamer: Aspie Superhero as well as How We Built Our Dream Practice: Innovative Ideas for Building Yours.


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