Ask the Experts: Dr. Rachel Kowert

Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov
December 1, 2021

In the fourth installment of FOSI’s Ask the Expert series, Good Digital Parenting’s Elizabeth Milovidov spoke with Dr. Rachel Kowert about how parents can play an active role in their child’s relationship with video games. Continue reading for Dr. Rachel’s expert tips.

Rachel Kowert, Ph.D is a research psychologist and the Research Director of Take This. She is a world-renowned researcher on the uses and effects of digital games, including their impact on physical, social, and psychological well-being. An award-winning author, she has published a variety of books and scientific articles relating to the psychology of games and, more recently, the relationship between games and mental health specifically. Her published works include peer-reviewed books such as Video Game Debate, Video Game Debate 2, and Video Games and Well-being: Press Start, as well as community-focused books such as A Parent’s Guide to Video Games, and Pragmatic Princess. Recently, she founded her YouTube channel Psychgeist, which serves to bridge the gap between moral panic and scientific knowledge on a variety of psychology and game-related topics.  Dr. Kowert has been featured in various media outlets, including NPR, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Wired, and video game publications such as Kotaku and Polygon.

How can busy parents slow down and play online video games with their children?

We are all busy these days and sometimes the last thing we want to do is sit down and play games with our kiddos. However, games are a fantastic way to build closer relationships and bridges of communication with our kids. My advice for busy parents would be to start by sitting down with your kids (or standing in the same room as them) for as long as it takes to ask three questions. The questions could be something as simple as "What are you playing?" or something open-ended like "Why do you like this game?". By just asking three questions you can learn so much about what your children like to do, what kind of content they are engaging with (which is often a parent's top concern!) and who they are playing with. Also, showing interest in what your children's have interest in is an important way to move games away as topics of conflict and towards topics of conversation.

What strategies do you recommend to ease children off of their video game and help end the session? 

Children are not great at managing time ...although, let's be honest, some adults aren't either! Until the age of 25, our brains are still developing. This includes our skills and abilities for judging the passage of time and future planning. When we shout out "5 more minutes", our children can have a very hard time knowing what that feels like. I suggest parents try a countdown method. This means that when it is 30 minutes until you want them to stop playing, you tell your children they have 30 more minutes. At 15 minutes, remind them 15 minutes more, then 10, then 5. And while this might seem like a lot of work, this will help your children cognitively process how much time they have left to finish their activity and lead to less hurt feelings and arguments that often come from winding down. Also, having longer lead times (30 minutes versus 5 minutes) is important and not all games can be paused, saved, or wound down in a 5 minute time frame.

What are some of the psychological benefits of playing online video games with your children?

Research has found a range of positive mental health benefits to playing games. From reduced anxiety, depression, and stress to improved communication and team building skills. Playing together can bolster these benefits as engaging in shared (especially playful) activities have been linked to improved relationship quality. 

Written by

Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov

Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov is a lawyer from California, a law professor in Paris, France and a Digital Safety Consultant in Europe. Using her European/American focus on Internet, technology and social media issues, she researches solutions to empower parents to guide their children in the digital age.  As Project Consultant, she will bring her experience in digital parenting, wellbeing and safety to FOSI's Good Digital Parenting.

She is the founder of DigitalParentingCoach.com, a website and community with resources and strategies for parents. Currently, she also provides support as an independent consultant for the Council of Europe (Children’s Rights and Education departments), Microsoft (Digital Safety) and e-Enfance (Child online protection). She is an international speaker on digital parenting and safety and her work has been featured in BBC, France 24, WSJ, Internet Matters and other media outlets and organizations focused on child online safety and digital parenting.