As a parent, one of the greatest concerns about esports is the amount of time spent behind a screen. It isn’t just a physical activity (or lack thereof) concern. Will time spent on esports impair kids’ social-emotional development in “the real world?” Does being on a computer all day detract from other cognitive skill development, particularly in younger children?
If you’re a parent seeking clarity online, resources are conflicting. Esports are like coffee. Every article is either a pro or con piece. If you Google “the benefits of drinking coffee” you’ll feel great about a daily Morning Joe. If you Google “the cons of drinking coffee,” you’ll be on WebMD for thirty minutes wondering which of your internal organs were damaged by caffeine.
This article isn’t going to convince you that esports don’t have potential negative impacts; they do. (But so do most sports offered to students in traditional middle and high school athletic programs; particularly the high contact sports like football or soccer.)
If your child is interested in esports, it is vital you approach your child with an open mind. Like the support you would offer your children in traditional sports, esports requires you to understand your child’s needs and work with the sport, coaches, and games themselves to learn what boundaries to set and what freedoms to allow.
Scaffolding support for your student-athlete leaves them empowered to advance in the sport. When empowered, they’ll develop agency around their capabilities and limitations in the games, too.
Breaking Couch Potato Myths
Playing video games and sitting on the couch is an almost unbreakable correlation. Many of us first experienced games in our living rooms. We sat for hours immersed in a game. If you got a new video game on Christmas, your entire holiday was planted in front of that TV. This perception of gaming’s sedentary nature is only (ironically) reenforced by professional esports. You don’t see a lot of standing desks being used during esports competitions, after all.
From our childhood gaming memories to rows of esports athletes glued to screens and gaming chairs, physicality is not something esports is seemingly good at prioritizing. However, players and teams do know the importance of whole-body health. Many high school teams, for example, dedicate days and practice sessions to physical fitness. Video games are mentally demanding and thus require a proper amount of circulation, nutrition, and sleep maintenance for optimal performance.
Consistently critiquing gaming for its perceived couch-potato nature also fails to acknowledge its scope and accessibility. Esports create opportunities for individuals with impaired physical mobility to participate in a fast paced competitive sport.
Your child’s situation will be unique. Perhaps they are playing esports and a physical sport like tennis. In this case, you may think they have a good balance of physical and stationary sports, however, are their physical skills in tennis benefiting their development in esports (and vice versa)? Will the exercises they do for tennis address the posture and lower body mobility focuses of an esports exercise regimen? Will the mental demands required for esports skills conflict with tennis strategy?
Creating a dialogue with your child helps reveal their comfort levels with esports and their physical abilities. Ask questions that allow your student to plan their days and workout schedules around what their most passionate about. Coaches can also help determine what amount of physical activity will best support the student’s goals and needs.
Real Life Boundaries
As parents become more involved with digital forms of communications, it becomes easier for them to understand how our digital selves are just as real as our in-person selves. Where adults have emails, kids have characters, avatars, and Discord. When we speak across the internet, it is an extension of our time, energy, and social effort. The amount of communication involved in esports is staggering. Teams don’t just communicate in the games, they meet during practices to plan strategy, they fundraise for supplies or team events, and they coach one another as games update or change the rules.
Similar to understanding your student’s physical needs, it is important to encourage them to vocalize their digital boundaries. A drawback of digital communication is simply how easy it is.
You know this feeling. A work email comes in at 9:34 PM and, of course, you read it and of course you spend another twenty or so minutes thinking about it. Then, in bed, you question if your reply to the email was good enough. What if you didn’t see that email? It wasn’t urgent. Think of the hours you could have saved not overthinking it.
Student-athletes should be encouraged to set limits for their team related communications. One strategy is to turn-off digital notifications at a certain hour. A student-athlete that demonstrates agency around their own communication boundaries is far more likely to apply those self-care skills to relationships and work.
For younger students not quite capable of higher-level agency yet, asking them how communication online makes them feel is a good step to put them in the practice of self-assessing their needs. Playing video games on a team is fun, but, they should begin to recognize when they don’t feel like playing online after school or outside of their sport. They should also be able to articulate if their friends are pressuring them to play or communicate during hours they’d rather rest.
The Cheat Sheet
If your child is interested in esports, now is the time to give them the tools for their success. To fully support their journey as a student-athlete, remember these quick tips as they create a life on the virtual field:
Accept that playing video games is more than sitting on a couch
Learn your school’s specific schedule and philosophy around physical practices and workout regimens
If your child is playing more than one sport, work with coaches to best balance the competing demands (physically and mentally)
Create a dialogue with your child. Ask them what they are passionate about and allow them to assess their own boundaries physically and mentally
Suggest that your child turn of digital notifications after a certain hour
Empower your student to recognize their social pressures are articulate their boundaries
With a degree in English from the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa (UHM), Tzana Saldania is passionate about science and communication. She is currently the Communications Coordinator for the Center for Advancing Education at Mid-Pacific Institute and has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Hawaii’s Perception and Attention Psychology Laboratory, aiding in research related to Statistical Learning in video game players.