“My child’s addicted to Minecraft.”
It’s a common complaint I hear from worried parents, who’ve “lost” their child to Minecraft, a digital, block world.
For some children, Minecraft becomes a complete obsession. It’s all they want to do when they’re awake. It’s all they talk about when they’re not playing. They watch You Tube clips about it. They read books and cheat sheets about it. Heck, they even have birthday cakes inspired by it.
Many parents are experiencing first-hand how “captivating” Minecraft is for children (they are the parents who have suddenly got grey hairs and cringe when their child asks them to play Minecraft…again).
Now, before we get too swept away, I often ask parents to think about this:
Were we so concerned when children became “addicted” to Harry Potter books? When they stayed up for night’s on end reading the books and watching the movies?
I suggest not.
Too often, we “demonise” young children using technology. Sure, Minecraft can be addictive (if it’s not carefully managed) and it can have some adverse effects (if it’s not used appropriately). But it can also have some great benefits. Minecraft can be educational. It can be a great way for children to learn and interact with their siblings and peers. It can be a great way to explore and learn new skills.
It’s just a different way for children to play and interact with their peers. And often our first reaction when something is new or different, especially when it comes to children, is to think of it as a threat. (We did this years ago when the printing press was being introduced to society. We feared that it was going to erode oral storytelling and be the end of human interaction. And we all know that that hasn’t been the case. It appears that it’s a natural tendency for us to fear new technologies.)
So are they really “addicted”… or is it something else?
Internet Gaming Disorder is currently a condition that’s being further investigated and researched to ascertain if it is in fact a formal mental disorder. Preliminary evidence suggests that in some instances, Internet Addiction is a legitimate mental illness.
However, before you panic and convince yourself that your child’s addicted to Minecraft, understand that it’s unlikely. Strictly speaking, only a small proportion of children would be formally diagnosed as being “addicted” to technology, including Minecraft. Estimates suggest that approximately 1-3% of young people would be formerly diagnosed with “addiction”.
To be formally diagnosed as having an “addiction” to technology, there are multiple “symptoms” that need to be present (and a formal, medical diagnosis is also required).
So while your child may not be formally “addicted” to Minecraft, there’s no denying that they may be obsessed, engaged or entranced with Minecraft. And that worries you (and rightly so). Many children do form very strong (sometimes unhealthy) attachments to Minecraft (and other technologies).
And there’s a very fine line between children being “obsessed” or “engaged” and “addicted”. We want our children to learn and develop the best way possible. And we know that too much of anything is not healthy. Minecraft is no exception.
So I propose that we re-frame our thinking as parents. Instead, of considering our child’s Minecraft “obsession” as an “addiction” I suggest that perhaps we think of it as a manifestation of them forming “poor media habits”. If we think in terms of children forming “media habits” then that gives us parents a sense of control over shaping and modifying these media habits (as opposed to simply labeling them as “addicted” to Minecraft). We feel more empowered to change and shape their media habits, as opposed to simply labeling their behaviour as an “addiction”.
When we think in terms of “media habits” we can tweak and alter what children are doing with Minecraft. We have some control over managing the situation. Simply labeling children’s behaviour as an “addiction” doesn’t empower us.
So what are some healthy Media Habits you can help your child develop when using Minecraft?
- WHEN- Establish and maintain rules regarding when children can use Minecraft. Can they play before school? Are there certain days that you’d like them to have a break from using Minecraft? Establish a Media Contract and rules that suit your child and family. And then stick to it (this is the hard part).
- WHERE– Have designated physical places in your home where Minecraft can be played at home. Specify some no-go-tech-zones, where children can’t play Minecraft (bedrooms and bathrooms are two places that really should be no-go-tech-zones. And yes I know one of those places seems like common sense as a no-go-tech-zone, but it’s often not!).
- 20-20-20 BREAKS- Encourage your child to get up and move every 20 minutes, by taking at least a 20 second break and looking at things at least 20 feet (approximately 6 metres away). This helps them to re-set their physical body (so that they don’t start to slouch and slump and form bad postural habits) AND it also gives their eyes and brains a much-needed tech-break (so that they can re-calibrate).
The crucial factor is that Minecraft has to be carefully managed. Parents have to be actively involved (whether they want to be or not). It’s a modern imperative if you allow your child to play Minecraft.