Q: My 8-year-old son has ADHD and is on medication for it. He wants to play the video game, Minecraft, but I’m not sure if he should. Do you think it is ok for him to play, and if so, for how long?
~ Muddled about Minecraft, The Overworld, Earth
A: Dear Muddled,
Yes, your son can play Minecraft, he’ll be delighted to hear – but with scaffolding from you to support his healthy development, especially his growing ability to self-regulate. Minecraft can help players develop their all-important STEM/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, [Arts], Math) skills as they build structures and complete challenges.
That said, Minecraft also involves tasks of killing creepers, zombies and other villains, so it’s best to play it with your son, at least initially. In this way, you are demonstrating respect for him and the things he cares about, you are learning the game — and you are able, as a fellow gamer, rather than a reprimanding parent outside the play experience, to inject perspective and guidance on the violent content. By helping your son understand the reality of violence, you are countering its portrayal as a painless way to triumph, engaging his natural empathy (it is inborn for almost everyone) and supporting his social emotional development. Challenging media violence rather than condoning or ignoring it can instill in him a sense of questioning rather than accepting violence whenever and wherever he encounters it.
Minecraft, like most video games, is designed to keep players engaged, and can easily suck children (and adults) into playing it for long periods of time. Research shows that children with ADHD are uniquely susceptible to developing problematic relationships with interactive media. When it comes to your son, be sure to establish ground rules around playing Minecraft up front. Although screen time limits are not always helpful in other contexts, your son may benefit from them as external support while he develops his own impulse control and self-discipline around game play. Work with him to create the ground rules for when he plays, how he plays, and how long he plays, helping him develop a planful use of his unscheduled time that allows him to be with family and friends, play sports, complete his homework, and get enough sleep.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
~ The Mediatrician®