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Online Gaming Addictions: What This Means For Schools

11/08/22
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According to this recent article in The Age, teenagers are gaming at “pathological” levels. This is leading to “prolonged school refusal, threats of self-harm and aggression towards family members”.

The article discusses a recent study by Macquarie University, which found that, of 1000 teenagers studied, 2.8 per cent met the criteria for internet gaming disorder (IGD). This has been exacerbated in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in young people spending more time on screens than ever.

Speaking to Macquarie University’s publication, The Lighthouse, developmental psychologist Associate Professor Wayne Warburton says that to meet the criteria for IGD “video-game use must be having serious impacts across multiple areas of a young person’s life, such as schoolwork, relationships and mental health”.

The study notes that the warning signs of IGD include:

  • falling school grades
  • reducing social interactions and a shrinking circle of friends
  • being tired, irritable and even aggressive.

Risk factors include low impulse control, low self-esteem and social exclusion. The researchers, who are trialling a new treatment program for problematic gaming in October 2022, suggest balancing screen use with “real life” interactions, as well as being aware of the addictive nature of screens.

In addition to social and mental health issues, student online gaming also carries with it many cyber safety risks. These risks occur on social media, such as TikTok, and can also include cyber-attacks and cyber bullying. Students accessing the internet at school to engage in online gaming increase the likelihood that these risks may eventuate during school hours too.

 

The Gaming Problem

Gaming has become a real issue in schools. Many students, particularly secondary school students, have laptops or similar end-user devices that they need to use at school every day. While the intention is to use these devices to assist with learning, some students are gaming on their devices during class time instead of completing their schoolwork.

This is interfering so much with learning that some schools have had to firm up their technology policies and internet controls due to students gaming in class when they should be working. Schools are having to seek to navigate this, allowing students enough internet access to benefit their learning without exposing them to greater distractions and risks.

 

The Gaming Solution

However, it’s not all bad news. This techradar article discusses the idea of students learning gaming at school, and how beneficial this can be, both in terms of learning skillsets applicable to the workforce, as well as developing healthy relationships based on inclusivity.

An article in The Conversation reports that gaming engages students, encourages participation in STEM, provides experiential learning and teaches students both how to learn from failure and how to understand more complex ideas. According to a Study International article, gaming can even help children and adolescents become better students, by improving cognitive abilities, developing social skills and improving digital and literacy skills.

These findings suggest that, if schools continue to allow devices at school, students’ interest in gaming could be used by schools in positive ways to engage them in their learning, if done in an appropriate way (read this as ‘managed by the school’).

 

What Does This Mean for Schools?

Schools owe a duty of care to students when they are at school or engaged in school activities. The duty is to take such measures as are reasonable in all the circumstances to protect students from risks of harm that reasonably ought to be foreseen. This duty of care extends to student activities in an online environment while at school.

As discussed in a previous School Governance article, to ensure that a school discharges its duty of care responsibilities to students in relation to online activities, a school should:

  • monitor the online learning environment and make sure that it has the ability to see the interactions between students and between students and teachers/staff
  • ensure that the online environment is transparent to parents and other school staff so that there is not a closed circle of interactions only visible by students and teachers/staff
  • put in place additional support and resources to assist students identified as less suited to online learning (for whatever reason)
  • regularly check in with parents as to their views on students’ learning and ensure that there are simple feedback and complaints mechanisms for parents and students to use.

The school’s duty of care responsibilities include responsibilities in relation to child safety so schools should also:

  • have clear policies on online learning, including staff and student professional boundaries in online learning environments with the policy communicated to teachers, parents and students
  • ensure that all staff, students and parents understand that all Adult and Student Codes of Conduct apply in cyberspace as well as in the ‘real world’ including the staff dress code. Schools should consider the need to add into their Student Code of Conduct standards in relation to appropriate dress when learning via tools that enable visibility such as webcams
  • ensure that other policies such as its staff Social Media Personal Usage Policy and Student Usage Social Media Policy are clearly understood and will be enforced. The more common risks that arise in relation to social media use relate to:
    • privacy and confidentiality
    • IT systems and security failures
    • brand and reputation
    • staff or student harassment, discrimination and bullying
    • child safety and maintaining a child safe culture
  • ensure that there are pastoral care resources available for students to deal with stress and anxiety.

 

Conclusion

There is no doubt that technology has changed the way that schools deliver learning. Students often have constant access to a laptop or similar device during class time, which can lead to problems such as gaming in class. However, gaming can also be used to a school’s advantage, as a means of keeping students engaged in their learning.

A recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald reports that one school has approached the problem of gaming by banning mobile phones during school hours, with the result that behavioural issues have decreased remarkably. According to the article, “The impact can also be seen by walking through the school during any break in lessons and listening to students talking to each other,” with the school’s principal noting, “In the playground, we no longer have students sitting against walls on phones playing online games.”

Whatever approach schools choose to take in relation to this issue, it is essential that they maintain their duty of care for their students in both real life and in online environments.

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About the Author

Elita Bird

Elita is a Legal Content Associate at CompliSpace. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree and is currently completing a Bachelor of Laws at the University of New England.

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