Most of what kids do online is scoffed at by adults, but it does come with a catch. Watch other people play video games online. While most adults are wondering how interesting this could be, the latest figures from Google show that in 2020, one hundred billion hours were spent watching game content on YouTube. You can travel to Neptune and return 475,000 times during this time.
Children make up the bulk of viewers with favorite video games scoring the highest viewing times including Minecraft with 201 billion views and Roblox with 75 billion views.
I do research with children and talk to them about it. For them, it’s a bit like watching their favorite sports star on the pitch. They appreciate the skill and the commentary that goes with it. They can watch a video game star or just someone trying to live stream their game. It’s like we’re watching The voice, or any other competitive television program. Looking at the skill level of others and making comparisons can be entertaining and interesting. Children tell me that old people watch sports on television, young people watch game videos.
Our judgmental position does not stop only at game videos. We think their use of social media is a waste of their time, we ditch their incessant group chat and shake our heads at those endless TikTok videos. A Common Sense media report says teens spend most of their waking day – over seven hours – on screens for entertainment.
But this is not a discussion of screen time. This is a discussion about not putting our heads in the sand so that we can provide meaningful advice when the kids are online, so that we can be good parents.
The implications of dismissing what they do as a waste of time results in a poor understanding by adults of what children are actually doing online and why. We show minimal interest, but expect children to listen to us when we advise them on what to do online. We have little understanding of their activities, but we expect our advice to be accepted by them as meaningful and relevant.
There has always been a generational power play between adults and children, however, that doesn’t mean it’s the best way. With kids spending a lot of their time online for fun, “knowing” this aspect of their life is important in many ways. This is how we really keep them safe. Without it, we make rules and decisions in the dark. This is how we build a meaningful and trusting bond with them. We need to be interested and aware of all aspects of their lives, not just when they are offline. Children can see right through us.
We might not want to watch game videos or TikTok videos with them, but at least we can take the time to understand their interest in them. We raise the whole child, not just the offline part. It’s a new year and now is the time to take a new attitude to the way we guide our children online.
Dr. Joanne Orlando is an analyst on digital literacy and well-being.