A mother and daughter playing video games together happily on the sofa


Two boys looking at a phone and smiling in the park.

‘Gaming’ means playing electronic or video games on devices such as Xboxes, smartphones or computers.

For lots of children and young people, gaming is a fun and sociable activity. But sometimes, you might feel worried about your child's feelings or behaviour around gaming. Or you might be concerned about the amount of time they spend gaming.

If this is the case, we’ve got information here about gaming and mental health. We’ve also got tips to help you talk to your child about gaming, and advice to support you in setting healthy limits.

How can gaming affect mental health?

When used with healthy boundaries, gaming can be a positive experience. It can also help some children and young people to look after their mental health. Young people tell us that playing video and online games can be a way to:

  • relax and unwind after school or work
  • take a break from everyday life and get absorbed in something else for a bit
  • socialise and connect with friends, and make new friends
  • socialise around a common interest, particularly if someone finds this easier or more fun than just chatting
  • find a community of people going through similar things
  • feel a sense of achievement and learn new skills


When gaming becomes too much

For some young people, gaming can start to negatively affect their mental wellbeing if it becomes too much. When this happens, a young person might feel less in control of what they’re doing. For example, they might start to regularly game in a way that stops them from doing other important things. These include spending time with family and friends in real life, sleeping, eating well, exercising and doing schoolwork.

This might happen because a young person needs a bit more help from the adults around them to set healthy limits. Or sometimes, it can happen when a young person starts to use gaming as a coping mechanism. We all need to ‘check out’ and distract ourselves from our worries sometimes, and that’s okay. But if a young person feels like they ‘need’ to game to cope with their feelings, it can make it harder to have healthy boundaries. This means that gaming can sometimes seem like the ‘problem’ from the outside, when it’s actually a symptom of how a young person is feeling about another part of their life.

Having negative social experiences online

Gaming can also have a negative effect on someone’s mental wellbeing if they’re having upsetting interactions with other players, or getting negative messages about their identity. This might particularly affect a young person who usually relies on gaming as a safe and relaxing space. A study by the Mental Health Foundation found that our sense of wellbeing around gaming is affected by the extent to which our ethnicity, gender and sexuality is represented in a video or online game. This is why it's really important for young people to find games and online communities that make them feel good about themselves. 

Talking to your child about gaming and mental health

If gaming isn’t something you grew up with, you might feel unsure about how to handle the conversation. Remember that finding a supportive way to talk to your child is about how you approach it, not knowing everything about the topic.

Try to start with an ‘I’ phrase. For example, you could say, ‘I’ve noticed you’re gaming a lot more than usual at the moment, and I wondered if we could have a chat about it?’ Starting a conversation while doing an activity together can also help your child to relax by making it feel like less of a ‘big chat’.

You can find more tips on starting conversations in our guide to talking to your child. We also have tips below from young people about what parents can do to help them feel more like talking.

Young people don't like it when parents:

  • do not recognise the ways in which gaming is helping, and instead approach the conversation as if gaming is ‘bad’
  • minimise or dismiss the fact that gaming is important to them
  • focus on the fact that the time spent gaming could be spent on schoolwork, rather than also thinking about other interests they might enjoy
  • ban gaming instead of looking for a compromise, without recognising that this can cut them off from their friends

Young people would like parents to:

  • start by finding out what their experience is, rather than assuming gaming is ‘bad’
  • ask them what they enjoy about gaming and what they get out of it, and show interest in what they have to say
  • recognise that gaming is a social thing they do with their friends
  • think about ways to make gaming more sociable if they are worried because their child spends lots of time gaming alone
  • try to find out what else is going on that might be causing them to game so much, rather than assuming gaming is the problem
  • look for a compromise 

Setting boundaries and supporting your child to game positively

It’s normal for a young person to want to spend time gaming on a regular basis. The point at which it becomes ‘too much’ depends on what is right for your child, and the boundaries you feel comfortable with as a parent.

If your child is finding it difficult to game in a way that leaves time for other important daily activities, they need help from you to set healthy limits.

Sometimes, setting boundaries around screen time can become a real battleground. If you’re having lots of conflict with your child at the moment, it might feel exhausting. But there are things you can do to change the dynamic and introduce some healthier limits. Below are some things that might help.

Family Agreement is a way for everyone to negotiate screen limits together, which then apply to the whole family. This helps young people feel more empowered about boundaries because adults get limits too. For example, as well as negotiating the boundaries they will stick to, they can ask you to limit the time you spend on your phone or checking your emails.

If your child does not stick to a boundary you have agreed, make sure to follow through on the consequences. Agree the consequences with your child in advance so they are not taken by surprise, or left feeling it is ‘unfair’. Following through on consequences will help to make the boundaries clear and consistent.

Sleeping well is incredibly important for our mental health and wellbeing. It’s a good idea to set limits in a way that encourages your child to develop a regular sleep pattern. This means they generally go to bed and get up at a similar time. Try to avoid screens for at least an hour before bedtime, in order to help them sleep well.

Ask them if it’s better to set a fixed playing time, or to agree a stopping point in a way that works for the game they’re playing. For example, they might be happier to stop at the end of a particular level, rather than stopping after an hour. If you’ve set a fixed time, you can use a sand timer or stopwatch to remind them how long they’ve got left. Some games also let you set a timer within the game.

Some children and young people game a lot because they feel accepted online, and they haven’t been able to find this offline in real life. Help them to find other activities they enjoy doing by themselves or with the family. Or look for local groups or clubs where they can meet like-minded people.

Finding games you both enjoy can turn gaming into quality time, rather than a conflict. But remember to respect your child’s wishes if they don’t want to play with you, as some games may feel very personal to them.

Try not to react or argue back when your child is feeling worked-up, as this will escalate the situation. Give yourself and your child a chance to have some space before you try to talk about what happened.

When you’re stuck in cycles of arguments, it’s easy for both you and your child to focus on the negatives. Remember to let them know that you’re helping them to set limits because you care about them. Try to do this even when it feels difficult to say.

Are they finding this issue difficult, and what do they think might help? Are there boundaries you can set together so that your child experiences the same limits as their friends?

For me, gaming became a place where I could escape my degree, my life and my mental health conditions when things were tough. Gaming also allowed me to do all the things we are told to do to deal with depression and anxiety.

Helping your child stay safe and happy while gaming

  • Use age ratings

    Games have age ratings just like films. Pan European Game Information (PEGI) provides detailed age ratings to help you decide whether a video game is appropriate for your child.

  • Talk about spending money

    You can often buy extras like game-world currency or weapons within a game while you’re playing. This includes loot boxes, which can encourage people to spend because they offer randomised rewards. This means a young person might keep spending to get a better box. Young people can feel pressure to spend to keep up with other players. It’s possible to spend significant amounts of their own or their parent’s money, or to run up a debt. Talk to your child about whether this is something they’re aware of.

  • Agree spending limits

    Agree spending limits as part of your negotiation about gaming boundaries. If your child does end up owing you money, it’s important that you think together about how they can repay it. This could be financially or with acts like helping out around the house. This is important for making sure your child understands that online debt is just as ‘real’ as any other kind.

  • Find games that make your child feel represented

    Look for games that meaningfully represent their ethnicity, nationality, gender or sexuality. These are more likely to have a positive impact on their sense of themselves and their identity.

  • Report your concerns

     If you’re worried about the way someone is communicating with your child online you can report it to Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP). They can advise and support you.

  • Help your child understand how to stay safe online

    Many young people game with others they meet online. Through this, they can make new friends and find a sense of community. But there are always risks online. These include seeing upsetting content, experiencing cyberbullying or being groomed for coercive relationships. Use our online safety guide to help your child understand how they can stay safe, and what to do if anything worries or upsets them.

When should I be worried about my child's gaming?

Signs there may be a problem

These are some signs that a young person is finding it hard to control the way they’re gaming:

  • they feel regularly exhausted and disengaged
  • they’re struggling to concentrate at school
  • they prioritise gaming over important daily activities like sleeping, eating and washing
  • they’re only socialising online and finding in-person interactions difficult to manage or enjoy
  • they no longer keep up with other interests they used to enjoy
  • they’re finding it difficult to think or talk about much else

These feelings and behaviours can leave a young person feeling low or depressed, anxious, angry or isolated.

A boy wearing a grey t-shirt sits beside a window while using Facebook on his laptop.

What to do if you're worried

If you’ve noticed some of these things, try to open up a conversation about what’s going on. If your child is able to, think together about some strategies they could try to make things better. If your child is regularly experiencing these things and it’s been going on for a while, they may need professional support to change the situation.

It’s a good idea to seek professional advice if your child is:

  • Finding it difficult and distressing to end a gaming session. This might include experiencing feelings of anger, aggression (towards themselves or others), agitation and anxiety that are hard for them to manage when they do finally stop.
  • Using drugs to prolong gaming sessions.
If your ‘hobby’ is causing you stress and anger or you’re using it as a coping mechanism to forget about the world around you, then it may be worth thinking about.

Finding professional help

If your child needs to talk, it can sometimes be easier for them to open up to someone outside of the family. Let them know about the phone, webchat, email and text support they can access from the services listed at the bottom of this page.

If gaming is affecting your child’s sleep, ability to concentrate or engagement at school, ask the school for some advice. You can speak to your child’s teacher, form tutor, head of year or SENCO. If it’s possible, agree with your child who you’re going to speak to. This gives them an important sense of control over what’s being shared about them.

Some schools also provide guidance or training for parents and pupils around gaming and screen time.

For more advice on what to do if your child is feeling anxious about school, or finding it hard to go to school, read our guide on school anxiety.

Read our guide to school anxiety

A counsellor or therapist can provide emotional support and help your child to make sense of the role gaming is playing in their life. They can also help them to develop other ways of coping with difficult feelings.

You can find out how to access counselling and therapy in our guide for parents.

Read our guide to counselling and therapy

If you’re worried that gaming is having a damaging effect on your child’s mental health, and the strategies you’ve been using aren’t working, speak to your GP.

When talking to your GP, try to be as clear as possible about your concerns. For example, if your child is anxious, struggling to sleep or becoming very isolated, name these things specifically.

The GP can talk to you or your child (depending on your child’s age) to find out what’s happening. They can then suggest the types of support that might be helpful. If needed, they can make a referral to the NHS mental health service for young people, called CAMHS. They can also refer your child to the NHS National Centre for Gaming Disorders for a specialist assessment.

For some parents, gaming can feel like a strange thing to talk to a GP about. Remember that the NHS recognises that gaming behaviour can affect our mental health. They have opened a treatment programme to support people with this.

Read our guide to getting support from the GP

The National Centre for Gaming Disorders is an NHS clinic that provides treatment to young people and adults aged 13+. It is for people who are finding it difficult to control their gaming, despite it having a negative impact on their life.

The Centre accepts:

  • self-referrals from older children or young people
  • referrals from parents, carers or other family members
  • referrals from professionals like GPs
More about the National Centre for Gaming Disorders

You can find out more about getting mental health support and navigating mental health services in our guide to getting support from mental health services.

Getting support from mental health services

Useful helplines and websites

While we take care to ensure that the organisations we signpost to provide high quality information and advice, we cannot take responsibility for any specific pieces of advice they may offer. We encourage parents and carers to always explore the website of a linked service or organisation to understand who they are and what support they offer before engaging with them.

  • YoungMinds Parents Helpline

    We support parents and carers who are concerned about their child or young person's mental health. Our Parents Helpline provides detailed advice and information, emotional support and signposting.

    You can speak to us over the phone or chat to us online.

    You can speak to us over webchat between 9.30am and 4pm from Monday-Friday. When we’re closed, you can still leave us a message in the chat. We’ll reply to you by email in 3-5 working days.

    Opening times:
    9.30am-4pm, Monday-Friday
  • Ask About Games

    Online information about specific games and age ratings – including short videos parents can watch to give them a quick idea of a game’s content.

  • Childnet

    Provides online information for parents around supporting children with gaming at different ages. 

    You can download their Family Agreement template and find tips on using it with your family.

  • Big Deal

    Offers information, advice and support for young people affected by problem gambling in England, Scotland and Wales.

    Free 24/7 1-2-1 live chat service available.

    For support outside of the helpline opening hours, call the National Helpline on 0808 8020 133.

    Opening times:
    9am - 8pm, Monday - Thursday
  • Student Minds

    Supports students to look after their mental health by providing information and advice.

    They also provide details about local services offered by universities and information on how you can access support group programmes.

    You can call or email for more information (this is not a helpline).

Patient Information Forum Trusted Information Creator (PIF TICK) logo

This page was reviewed in August 2023.

It was created with a parent or carer with lived experience of supporting their child or young person with gaming.

We will next review the page in 2026.

YoungMinds is a proud member of PIF TICK – the UK's quality mark for trusted health information.

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