Many of the kids who escape into the virtual gaming world end up essentially avoiding real-life social interaction because they are uncomfortable and don’t have the ability to communicate and resolve problems. Children playing with real-life friends learn to compromise and work together. Virtual friendships don’t teach those abilities. A child who hasn’t developed the necessary social skills to understand the needs and desires of others may run into trouble in the short and long run.
Banning your child from playing online games isn’t the solution. Fighting, scolding and judging doesn’t work. Form a partnership with your child and find out why gaming is important to them. These are steps parents can take to help a child make friends in real life.
- Talk, don’t fight.
Starting a discussion is the first step toward helping your child improve his social skills and therefore encouraging him to make friends offline. Open the conversation by asking what he likes about playing games. You might ask, “What do you get out of online gaming? Why is it important to you?” When you try to understand the video game world from his point of view, they’ll be more likely to listen to your suggestion that he explore true friendships offline. Recognize that banning video games will only start a fight.
- Explore the value of In-Real-Life friendships.
Your child may have trouble distinguishing the difference between online friends and true friends. While they look for close bonds and emotional connection in their true friendships, they may not carry those expectations over to their online friendships. Psychologists have seen that children and young adults don’t necessarily expect to find traits such as trust and loyalty or compatibility and persistent contact in their online friends.
You can help your child understand the importance of these traits. Talk with them about the difference between real friendship and online friendship without judging or scolding.
- Identify the stumbling blocks.
You know that play has changed since your childhood and you know that gaming is what a lot of kids do these days. But you also recognize there’s a reason your kid may prefer virtual friends to real friends. Kids who may have trouble picking up on social cues in the real world can relax in the virtual world; plus, it’s fun!
You’ll want to find out what is getting in their way if you’re going to work on their social skills. Really listen and become a partner in helping your child re-evaluate their friendships.
- Don’t give up on the conversation.
You’ll probably encounter resistance when you try to open a discussion about the difference between online friends and IRL friends. Don’t give up on the conversation even if your child doesn’t want to talk. Difficult conversations are a part of parenting, and you’ve likely had other tough talks with your child. Don’t be put off when they insist everybody at school spends all their free time gaming.
Don’t judge and don’t fight but keep trying to explore this issue with them. Tread cautiously so that you don’t shut them down. You’ll need to encourage them to share openly if you want your child to move from virtual acquaintances to real life friends.