Parents’ biggest worry about the rise of online gaming is focused on the amount of time their children spend on games, new research has found.

In a nationwide survey by UK digital board game publisher Marmalade Game Studio, parents who have children who play online games were asked to rank their biggest concerns about their children’s gaming, which revealed nearly half (45 per cent) are concerned or very concerned about the length of time their children spending playing.

Cristina Mereuta, co-CEO at Marmalade Game Studio, noted that it’s understandable parents are worried about their kids spending too much time playing online games.

“Given that children can play in their bedrooms, and if they have smartphones, it is very easy to access games,” Mereuta said of the November 2021 survey that entailed interviewing 1,022 adults weighted to represent the UK population.

The other parental concerns are around children playing violent games, the potential effect on sleep, and the impact on children seeing their friends and still being sociable.

However, although these still rank among top issues, they’re less of a worry than the sheer number of hours kids rack up on gaming, the study found.

In fact, more parents were unconcerned or not very concerned about the other issues.

Pandemic drives up screen time

It appears the pandemic has only made things worse and led to a massive spike in screen time for children. A ParentsTogether survey in 2020 found average time spent online has doubled for kids during the crisis, and 85 per cent of parents are worried about this increased consumption.

The survey of 3,000 ParentsTogether members found almost half reported kids to be spending more than six hours a day online, compared to only 8 per cent before the crisis.

With China moving to officially limit kids’ game time, parents are also looking to both government and Big Tech itself to develop stronger protections to keep children safe online such as limiting deceptive advertising and protecting their privacy, the survey found.

The problem of excessive time online

Excessive amount of time spent online has also been shown to be a specific problem for teens.

A four-year longitudinal study of compulsive internet use and emotion regulation difficulties led by James Donald from the University of Sydney found that when adolescents spent too much time using the internet it can hinder their ability to regulate their emotions in healthy ways.

Reducing internet use, instead of trying to teach these skills, is the most effective way of helping adolescents develop proper these skills, the researchers concluded.

Yet when it comes to the question of how much is too much time online, there is no magic figure, according to Australia’s Office of the eSafety Commissioner.

It has said that the right amount of screen time depends on a range of factors, such as a child’s age and maturity, the kind of content they’re consuming, their learning needs and the family routine.

It recommends considering a child’s screen use and time spent gaming in the context of their overall health and wellbeing.

And if it’s a problem, set firm limits and be on the lookout for signs such as less interest in social activities, tiredness, being obsessed with certain games and anger when being asked to take a break from online activity.

“It can be easy to focus only on the clock, but the quality and nature of what they are doing online, and your involvement, are just as important,” the office said.