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Fathers are those most often concerned that their child games too much
New research shows that there was a 62 per cent greater chance of worry amongst fathers than amongst mothers.
When it comes to video games, boys are the main source of parents’ concern, and maybe rightly so.
69 per cent of boys aged 9-17 report that they game daily, while only 15-19 per cent of the girls do the same, according to Norwegian data from the research project EU Kids Online.
Have asked both mothers and fathers
In his doctoral thesis, Khalid Ezat Azam has examined children's and young people’s gaming habits and the concerns they give rise to. He is a research fellow at the Department of Media and Communication at OsloMet.
Some of his findings are surprising.
“We found that it is fathers who worry most frequently that their child is gaming too much. This is contradictory to previous research, which has pointed in the opposite direction. In previous research, the respondents have often been mothers,” says Azam.
In the EU Kids Online project, however, there was a relatively even number of mothers and fathers participating in the data collection in Norway.
Parents of girls mentioned fathers and uncles
In Norway, 1,001 boys and girls participated in the survey, together with either their mother or their father. Half of the fathers expressed concern.
There was a 62 per cent greater chance of expressed concern amongst fathers.
Together with Professor Elisabeth Staksrud and researcher Kjartan Ólafsson, Azam analysed the questionnaires answered by both children and parents.
Additionally, he conducted qualitative interviews with parents. In these interviews, the findings supported previous findings showing that parents are most concerned about the boys.
“Especially when parents talked about being addicted to computer games, the focus was instantly shifted to the boys. In some instances, we interviewed parents of girls. They mentioned a cousin, an uncle or someone they’d read about,” says Azam.
He believes that boys, to a larger extent than girls, are seen as ‘guilty until proven innocent'.
Wants to be precautious
“It’s like at an airport, where certain target groups are suspected to be involved in crime. Several measures are taken against these groups, even though it’s frowned upon. Similarly, boys are followed with vigilant eyes when it comes to computer games. The parents know that boys get into trouble more often, and they want to take precautions,” Azam thinks.
How often the child gamed also made a difference in how concerned the parents were.
“The threshold seems to be between children who game every day and those who game less often. If the child says that he or she games daily or several times a day, the parents are more concerned,” Azam says.
The doctoral thesis contains several findings. Amongst other things, it suggests that:
- Parents are more concerned if their child is younger.
- Parents who usually agree with their children about the rules for gaming are less concerned than other parents.
- Parents worry a little less if the child does schoolwork daily or almost daily.
The family environment is not significant
Certain findings surprised Azam and his colleagues:
For example, the child’s experience of the family environment didn’t seem to influence the parents’ concerns.
The children were asked whether they are listened to at home, whether the family tries to help them and whether they feel safe there. The fact that none of these factors seemed to matter, contradicts the findings in previous research.
Whether the child spent any time with friends face-to-face did not seem to influence their parents’ concern, either. Neither did the child’s participation in activities outside the home.
Azam underlines that self-reported data from children could have methodological limitations.
Problem players disappear in the crowd
“It must also be noted that there was a representative selection that took part in the study, where problem gamers or gamers at risk of developing problems may disappear in the crowd,” he adds. “We believe the concerns are largely about the precautious approach to computer games among most parents, rather than a reaction to a problem that has already arisen."
The family environment and other factors related to the children’s actions would probably be more significant if the sample included more children with gaming problems or families with a high level of conflict.
Fathers with bitter experiences?
Azam speculates that the fathers expressed more concern for the children because they have their own experiences with gaming.
“This is a generation of parents who grew up with computer games. If you are 45-50 years old today and a father, there is a greater chance that you played computer games when you were younger than if you are a mother around the same age. Maybe it was great fun, but some may have experienced that they lost friends or that it affected their grades. Some of the fathers do mention this,” Azam says.
He adds that if the fathers haven’t experienced it themselves, they may have seen or heard of others who have.
Play along and set boundaries
Meanwhile, the interviews indicate that mothers feel a greater pressure to be a ‘dynamic parent’ – in this case to show interest, keep up to date on new games, and make rules in collaboration with the children, in line with the recommendations from the foundation Barnevakten (Kids and Media).
“In the interviews, several of the mothers say they feel bad about not providing enough support to their children when it comes to gaming, and that they feel they should join their gaming more often. It seems to be more important for mothers to live up to this ideal,” Azam says.
Fathers rarely feel this kind of pressure, according to the interviews he has conducted. This possibly also influences the parents’ concern, according to Azam.
Maybe it is easier for the fathers to say that they are concerned. While the mothers spend more time reflecting upon what a good parent is, and whether a good parent needs to be concerned about their children’s gaming, he wonders.
Azam believes it is difficult to know what the ideal for a good parent is these days. He thinks that the advice about supporting children’s gaming is no ‘one size fits all’.
“This kind of advice is tailored to technology optimists. Going forward, one should consider making the advice more inclusive, so that they meet families with different views on digital media,” he says.
Khalid Ezat Azam: Digital parenting in the risk society: Parents’ perception and mediation of video game risk, Doctoral dissertation at the University of Oslo, 2023. (The dissertation)
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