Mikko Meriläinen: Parenting Digital Game Players in the Time of COVID-19

Photo credit: SEUL ry / Arttu Kokkonen / Assembly Summer 2019

Written by Mikko Meriläinen, Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies. This post is a part of an ongoing blog series by members and alumni of the CoE. See the full list of published posts and the introduction to the series. The original Finnish version of this blog post can be read here.

The COVID-19 pandemic is currently causing drastic changes in the everyday life of people of all ages. As my own research expertise lies in parenting and young people’s digital gaming, here are a few things to consider:

Don’t be too worried if your children’s gaming increases

There are a variety of reasons why gaming might increase in the current exceptional situation. The most obvious explanation is that with schools closed and many hobbies on hold, children and youth have a lot more time on their hands. It’s understandable and perfectly normal to use some of this newfound free time for gaming. For many parents currently working at home, children’s gaming also becomes more visible, which may further increase worries over excessive gaming. While parents should encourage children to take breaks and engage in other activities as well, a massive concern is not warranted.

Gaming can be a form of staying in touch

Digital games and related services such as Discord or Twitch are a common way to connect with friends, and the importance of this function increases with the need to maintain physical distance. With sports practice and hobby club sessions cancelled, for many children and youth, as well as adults, online gaming makes it possible to catch up while doing something fun together.

Focusing on games can help deal with stress

The current situation is stressful in many ways: normal everyday routines are difficult or impossible to maintain, the news are filled with dramatic and scary headlines, and there is much confusion and misinformation concerning the virus. As parents and other grown-ups are often visibly worried, some of this inevitably transmits to children and youth as well. In a situation like this, relaxing with games and other entertainment is likely helpful regardless of age: constant stress and worrying over things out of one’s control is detrimental to anyone’s health. For addressing the issue with worried children, several organizations such as UNICEF have helpful tips and guides.

You can play together, too

As the containment measures force family members to stay at home together, this is a good chance for engaging in gaming as a family activity. Even if teenagers don’t want to play together with their parents, now is a good chance to ask them about gaming, get to know their favourites, watch esports together, or get up to date on current top YouTubers.

Now may be the time to ease up on rules

If you have limitations in place on gaming time, now is a good time to reconsider them – at least for the time being. Right now gaming can be much more important to many children and youth than usually, so I suggest that parents should be more accommodating as well. A few weeks or months of more gaming than usual is in most cases not detrimental to the player’s health, and in these exceptional circumstances it can support personal well-being. Unnecessary conflict over gaming can make an already stressful situation worse. When all of this eventually blows over, families can go back to their former rules if they’re still deemed necessary.

Mikko Meriläinen is a postdoctoral researcher at Tampere University’s Game Research Lab and the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies. His research interests include young people’s digital gaming, gaming in families, and the connections between digital gaming and well-being. He is currently working in the research project Growing Mind: Educational transformations for facilitating sustainable personal, social, and institutional renewal in the digital age. You can find Mikko’s doctoral dissertation Towards being gaming literate: Youth digital gaming and adverse consequences as a parenting issue (in Finnish) here.