Are Video Games a Bad Place for Kids to Meet People?

June 7, 2023
real talk with susan and kristina podcast

In this episode, KJK Student Defense attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler talk with Andrew Fishman, licensed clinical social worker in Chicago, Illinois who works with clients to understand the impact of video games on mental health.  In this episode, they talk about the subject of kids socializing in video games.  Topics include why kids are using online games to meet people, what works and what doesn’t work for balancing kids between the online and offline world, and simple strategies parents can use to ensure their kids are safe online.

3 Main Points:

  • Why kids are using online games to meet other people
  • What works and what doesn’t work for balancing kids in the online and offline world
  • Simple strategies parents can use to make sure their kids are safe


Show Notes:

  • (05:16) Why kids are using video games to meet people
  • (07:41)  Texting or Voice: How kids communicate in these virtual worlds
  • (08:34)  Did Covid cause online meeting to explode?
  • (09:18)  Stranger Danger: Can Anyone Talk to your Kids Online?
  • (11:05)  At What Age Should You Trust Your Kids to Chat Online?
  • (11:45)  Do Time Limitations Work?
  • (12:46)  Why Some People Prefer Online Socialization
  • (16:14)  Video Game Addiction: Is It Real?
  • (16:59)  When Anything Could Be Classified as Addiction
  • (17:47)  Dopamine Hits:  Overblown or Real?
  • (19:13)  Simple Strategies Parents Can Implement to Get Kids Into the Real World
  • (21:07)  Are Kids Even Interested in Reading Anymore?
  • (23:12)  Roblox:  Friendly Game or Hateful Space
  • (25:01)  How Parents Can Really Judge if a Game is Safe For Their Kids



Susan Stone: So I just got back folks out there in listening land from Portugal, and I haven’t even told this story to Kristina yet. So one morning I’m at breakfast and I see a cute family, a mom, a dad, and a little boy. And I had noticed them the other day at breakfast and I actually had noticed them the evening before at dinner.

We had landed at the same restaurant probably cuz the concierge always sends you to the same restaurant. Do you guys know that out there? Totally true. Totally true. And, The little boy is just being so well behaved. And I remember when my kids were little that it was really difficult in a restaurant to be kids.

Kristina Supler: Oh, he has such anxiety going to a restaurant with these kids. Oh yeah. 

Susan Stone: Yeah. Talking to the mother, she there, she’s fascinating. She was really lovely. Fa. They’re from the UK and I said, I cannot believe how well behaved your son is. I remember when my kids were little and you know how well they’re doing on this trip to Portugal.

While it was a lovely romantic vacation for my hus, hubby and I. I didn’t really see it as a place for 

Kristina Supler: kids families. 

Susan Stone: Yeah. I mean it was, there were a lot of family, but when, I think when my kids were little mm-hmm. They just wanted to splish splash at the pool. Do kid stuff. I did a lot of kid stuff and she said,I really believe that to raise children, they need to be bored and come up with their own creativity.

And in theory, I play by that rule too. Kids need to engage in imaginative play. But Kristina, the kid’s face was glued 

Kristina Supler: to a tablet, let me guess. 

Susan Stone: To a tablet. I’m like, I saw where you were going with this. Ah, that is not imaginative play. In my days, I would give my kids blank paper, not even coloring books.

And some crayons at a restaurant and say, Keep yourself busy, dude. And then they didn’t, they misbehaved, but that stuck with me. Sure. 

Kristina Supler: it’s in this day and age when in any situation for kids, the minute there’s like even a hint of misbehavior, you give them a device. 

And even for adults, if you think about it in an awkward situation, you have time to kill. What do we do? We immediately turn to our devices versus looking around us talking to a stranger. Looking at something, on, on the street. It’s just, we are so into our devices, whether it’s kids or adults. 

Susan Stone: Oh, how many times have you gone out to dinner with someone in their faces of, in their phone. And I’ve done it. And I’m not judging this parent because you know what?

I didn’t have that available when I raised my kids dad. Sure. 

Kristina Supler: And I just also, as a working mom, I just have, I just think about you have a long day. You wanna enjoy an evening out with your family, with your kids. You wanna have family time. And then something starts to unravel or someone’s a little cranky, or who knows what the situation is.

It’s, I get it. Like it’s easy to just say, here, honey. Okay. Look at my phone. 

Susan Stone: And so is the tablet, the older kid pacifier. 

Kristina Supler: Sure. Look at that. I think so. yes. The tablet is the modern day Passy. There you go. There you go. 

Susan Stone: There’s your baby Bop. Or as Josh, I’m gonna embarrass you out there. He used to call him his baby ah. But why don’t you introduce our guest. 

Kristina Supler: Sure. So today we are really happy to be talking with Andrew Fishman. and we’re gonna talk. Hi Andrew. 

Andrew Fishman: Hello. I’m happy to hear here. 

Kristina Supler: Welcome Andrew. Andrew’s a licensed clinical social worker and therapist based in the Chicago area. He specializes in working with adolescents certified in treating video game addiction.

Andrew is dedicated to addressing the challenges faced by young individuals in today’s digital world. Passes everywhere. He actively contributes in the field that’s good, in the field of video games and mental health by sharing his insights and knowledge through his articles on Psychology Today. 

Andrew’s expertise has garnered attention beyond the realm of therapy. He’s been featured in publications like The Wall Street Journal and Al Jazeera. He’s also given a host of Noteworthy speeches. 

Today, what drew us to Andrew was an article that appeared in Psychology Today entitled, Why So Many Teens use Video Games to Meet others. And so this is a cool topic that we’re gonna jump into.

And again, Andrew, we’re really happy to have you with us today. Welcome. Thank you again. 

Susan Stone: So let’s kick it off. Your article, which I have right here with me. Why so many teens use video games to meet others. Your premise is that the video games have become the new mall where kids meet. Can you, yeah.

Talk about this and elaborate a little more. 

Andrew Fishman: So kids really want to spend time with each other in person. But it’s where can they go? They wanna hang out with each other in person. But they just there’s nowhere to do it. When I was a kid, we had all sorts of places to go. That was 20 years ago.

But all those places I looked at them, they’re all closed, oh yeah. 

Susan Stone: Or you don’t feel safe sending them. My dad used to drop me off at the mall.

Kristina Supler: I was gonna say, and my day, it was Camelot music. We all went and hung music store. So I, there’s not a lot of places. For kids to go, I’m saying kids, but teens, young adults and people’s houses.

Susan Stone: Why not mm-hmm. The basement. 

Andrew Fishman: Yeah. No, that’s it. that’s great. And that’s one of the places that they have. I think part of the problem with, for my clients at least, is how do you get to those places? Mm-hmm. With both your parents now work. You’re,and you don’t have a car yet.

You can’t go to their, you can’t go to somebody else’s house. And a lot of the parents don’t want their kids going anywhere during, on a school night, which makes a certain amount of sense, but that’s now five sevenths of your week that you can’t see other people. And so they’re they come home on a Monday night and they’re exhausted from school and they wanna see somebody else.

They wanna talk to a peer. And their options are calling somebody on the phone, which nobody does, or they can,or they can text each other, which a lot of them do. Or they on, on Snapchat or something. Or they can have a long fun voice chat while sharing a game and that, so those, what they call third spaces, which is the place other than school or work or home, the malls, the bowling alleys, the churches, all sorts, the places we used to meet people.

This has become their third place where you go home after school and you can go to a virtual third place and spend as much time with your friends as you want. And so it, it certainly makes sense that you would go there. 

Susan Stone: How do you talk to each other? Or are you just playing? Explain how it works to this.

Kristina Supler: Are people who are in these online communities only talking about the video games? Are these people talking about, I don’t know, favorite food sports team’s life? 

Andrew Fishman: it depends on the game, but generally, yeah. People talk about all sorts of things when they’re with friends. People talk about their day. They complain about teachers. They, do all the typical adolescent conversations and even if they’re not, Talking about their lives outside of the games and they’re just talking about it.

I still think it’s a positive experience. 

Susan Stone: Wait, are they talking or is it texting? 

Andrew Fishman: That’s a, it’s a good question. There’s both. So some of the games, most games, if there’s a multiplayer component, will have a text feature in the game. Some of them also have a voice chat, and there’s also supplementary apps you can use.

There’s one that’s really popular called Discord. It’s a website and Yep. So it’s for listeners, it’s a website or app that you can use to communicate and build little virtual communities. I have, I, I met a few of them myself, and they’re fun, but you, it also has a feature where you can just, make a group of friends and then set everybody up with a headset and then chat on this external app while playing a while, playing a game.

Kristina Supler: Andrew, these online gaming communities,they’re obviously extremely popular. Were they popular pre covid d or do you think Covid really caused the huge surge in, in the involvement of young people in these online communities? 

Andrew Fishman: Actually, I think I, they’ve always been popular. I think that it’s certainly, there, there was definitely a surge. And I think a lot of the surge was people much older than adolescents where I, I wasn’t always online talking to people that’s ing about adults, 

Kristina Supler: I think.

Andrew Fishman: Huh? Yeah. And so suddenly I was alone in my apartment. I just, I needed something to do. And I wasn’t allowed to go outside for a lot of it. And so I could go to, somebody’s virtual island in Animal Crossing and go run around and catch bugs there. And so that was just a nice way to spend time with other people.

And so there was definitely a surge. I think the surge might have happened with our age kind of people though. 

Susan Stone: Can, is it limited to your own friend group or can strangers infiltrate? Is this state? 

Andrew Fishman: That’s a really important point. So there are many people just talk to their friends.

Some people only talk to the people on their team. If you’re playing a team-based game, us versus them. And sometimes you’re just open to anybody who’s around. You can hear you talk and you can talk to them. They can talk to you. 

I don’t like that. I don’t like that. 

Right? And so and so that gets ugly really quickly.

I hate that. I don’t usually use it at all. Because as soon as I turn on a game, if I have what’s called public chat on. There are slurs. There’s derogatory comments made. There’s just offensive things said pretty quickly. I don’t know that I’ve ever turned on and been turned on a game and really been happy with the conversation for the whole time.

And so most of the time I just turn off the public chat option. 

Susan Stone: I’m gonna ask you a question, Kristina. Sure. And then I wanna know what the expert has to think. Would you allow your youngest is how old for our listening? 

Kristina Supler: almost 10. 

Susan Stone: Would you allow your 10 year old to play this type of game? And I’d like to know what Andrew thinks about what age is appropriate. 

Kristina Supler: Chatting and interacting with others.

No. But Animal Crossing for example, is fairly benign. My son does play Animal Crossing and I watched it and it’s a little animal game with the, the settings and the, age specification for, you know, the version we bought. But I mean, what do you think on that, Andrew? In terms of kids, let’s say grade school, third, fourth, fifth, even sixth grade, and in these online games with the community interaction component in chatting?

Susan Stone: Yeah. What age should you, what age is recommended in your professional opinion?

Andrew Fishman: I think it depends on the kid and the level of maturity. So for public chat, I wouldn’t let them use it until 16, 17 at the earliest. If they’re old enough to, if they’re mature enough to handle hearing some really heinous things. And they know how to handle them. For chat or chatting with their friends, that’s a different story for me.

if you would let them talk to their friends on the phone unsupervised, it’s probably fine to have them talk to each other while playing a game. That doesn’t bother me at all. But public chat even I turn that off most of the time. Cause it’s bad in some places. 

Susan Stone: Do you think we should put a time restriction on how long your, you let your kid play? Because you would let your kid go to the mall for hours?

Andrew Fishman: And so there is some evidence that being on screens for too long every day is harmful. But it depends. I guess what the alternative is if they are, if they have the option to go to soccer practice, that’s probably better for their physical health than their mental health is to be running around and being with people in person.

But if not, if they would be sitting and playing a video game by themselves versus playing it with friends, that’s, I wouldn’t encourage with friends anyway. And if they’re not showing any signs of video games doing harm to them. There’s probably not much of an issue with sitting around and playing for several hours.

Kristina Supler: Andrew, I can just imagine my peers, my friends, and Susan and I were based in Cleveland. And so though we’re not in Chicago or New York, we’re also not in a total social desert. And I can just hear people I know saying, why would anyone prefer this online socialization? I don’t get it.

So can you shed some light on why, in fact, some people do prefer online socialization? 

Andrew Fishman: It’s a lot easier for some people. It’s, it might be the only thing that’s possible for some of them. So take for instance, somebody who has depression. It is just by definition, really hard to get out of bed. You have low mood.

It is hard for you to just find the energy to do anything. Let alone set up plans. And then leave the house and get dressed and showered, and then go out and get to the place and then have to use all this energy to socialize if you know the way you want to. That might just, that might literally not be possible for some people.

You are, 

Susan Stone: Would you say from a therapeutic perspective, the goal is to maybe use it for scaffolding? Or do you think it’s enough for some people? Meaning would you say, if someone has severe depression, okay, why don’t we start here, but I really wanna get you, so you’re going to a party and not abstaining from a party.

Or do you think, why are we, this works if it’s not broken. And this person can socialize this way, who cares? What’s the downside? 

Andrew Fishman: And a lot of the time I do want to use it as a scaffolding, as a less bad option. Because it’s research shows that it’s not as good to be online as it is to be in person.

I think we all, that’s gonna be my question. Yep. And so it’s better than not having a person to talk to for sure. But it is not as good as going out to a party if you’re, if you have the ability to do. And so we’re comparing, I think, three categories of people. One is the people who just can’t. Who do not have the ability to make friends in person for a variety of reasons.

People who can, but it’s difficult. And then people who really it’s a choice. they go out all the time and they also wanna supplement that with games. And so each one of those, I would encourage to be in person whenever possible. But it sounds like for each of those three categories and people, and for all of us, if you, if your choice is being isolated and alone in your place, or to be sharing even a virtual space with somebody else, that’s probably better for your mental health, just as a social animal.

Susan Stone: What about playing, having someone over and playing chess or Monopoly or Scrabble or banana grams? 

Kristina Supler: I think though what I’m hearing Andrew say is that for many that’s just not an option for potentially a variety of reasons. And so I think that, I don’t know. Would anyone disagree that having a friend over to play a board game is preferred to online social interaction?

Probably not. But maybe for whatever reason, you have an ill family member, you live in the middle of nowhere, who knows? maybe you can’t. 

Susan Stone: Andrew what? I, two good points. Kristina w 

Kristina Supler: So we read a lot in the news and in magazines and newspapers about the negative effects of video games, video game addiction.

The who? 

Susan Stone: Yeah. Online addiction. You’re your thing, right? 

Kristina Supler: Yep. Or the, the predators trolling these online chat groups. And some. Really fear the internet in terms of allowing their children to have interaction with it. In your opinion, what are some of the red flags that parents should really watch out for in terms of gauging whether their child’s use of the internet is becoming problematic?

Susan Stone: And is video addiction a, is it real or is it just not? No limitations. 

Andrew Fishman: That’s, I think you’re heading at the heart of something really important is that there isn’t a psychological, there isn’t a, a consensus yet. So there’s a thing called the dsm. You may or not be familiar with it. It’s what psychologists and psychiatrists use to diagnose people.

Video game addiction is in there. But only in the back as a condition for future study. So they’re, they’re aware of it. They’re researching it. They’re not sure whether to put it in or not. But some of those criteria that they’re suggesting might be in there are what you would expect. 

The letting it interfere with your schoolwork or, professional life. If you’re choosing to play a game, instead of hanging out with people in person.

If you are choosing, if you’re. Spending more money on games than you can afford. 

Kristina Supler: Sounds like any vice really. 

Andrew Fishman: Yeah, it is. Yes. Where if it is starting to affect the, your quality of life, it’s affecting the way that you live and you have lost control over it. That it’s like any vice. But this, it seems like this is, video games are intentionally made to be habit forming. So it does feel a little more specific, like a kind of addiction rather than, let’s say eating or, golf. Because, you could have the same kind of problems with golf where you would go there instead of Thanksgiving. And you could choose to ignore other people and spend a ton of money on it.

But golf isn’t specifically made to be addicting like video games are. 

Susan Stone: I read an article that people get little dopamine hits. When they play video games. Is that real? 

Kristina Supler: Yes. So like the slots in 

Andrew Fishman: Vegas Uhhuh. Yeah. So I think that’s a little bit of a, it is technically correct. But I think that’s overblown because technically anything you enjoy gives you dopamine. And so that’s just the mechanism by which your brain tells you that something is fun.

And so when people say, well, video games give you dopamine, and so does heroin, that’s not a fair comparison. Eating something gives you dopamine too. Really anything that you, you know that makes you smile is gotta give you dopamine. And so for me, an ice cream Sunday, 

Kristina Supler: I was just, yes, ice cream Sunday gives you, which I save ice cream Sunday might give.

Not really because like it genuinely makes me happy. 

Susan Stone: Oh my gosh. A little hot fudge and whipped cream and some salted pe. We’ve gotta go to Mitchell today. It is my birthday today. So I want a Sundae yay. Thanks. Thanks. I get to be with you Andrew. Now we’re socializing right now. I’m getting to know you.


Kristina Supler: So what are your thoughts, Andrew, in terms of guardrails that parents can put in place to help their kids find the balance between, Okay. Online socialization, good outlet. But also, as Susan says, have a friend over for a board game or go play soccer with some classmates. Go ride your bike, whatever.

What are your thoughts on parameters parents can put into place? 

Susan Stone: Or walk The dog Love Dog 

Kristina Supler: and the dog. Walk my kids to help walk the dogs. Walk the dog. 

Andrew Fishman: One thing I often recommend to parents is to not take the games away. As much as add other things in. In their place. I love that.

So if you’re, if you’re going to tell your kid, all right, you’re playing too many video games, you should, we’re gonna live at you to an hour a day and you haven’t filled that time with something else, then they’re going to want to play more and more. They’re gonna complain. They’re going want to do that.

If you then say, all right, let’s get your ballet lessons. That sounds fun. Let’s do that two days a week. You have expressed interest in that. Let’s get you going. 

Kristina Supler: Wasn’t it also human nature? The minute you tell someone they can’t have something that’s prohibited, it’s all you want. 

Susan Stone: Yeah. 

I still remember Saturday nights at home when watching my lineup was Love Boat and Fantasy Island and you’ve just aged yourself. I just did, but and I would spend sometimes, and then Sunday morning cartoons, I could watch those for hours. Is this healthier than regular tv? 

Andrew Fishman: There actually isn’t very much evidence to suggest that it’s any better or worse.

Interesting that you are being more active while you’re playing a video game. So if anything that aspect is, is better, but it’s. would you rather be playing a game or watching somebody else play one or watching somebody else or just passively watching Netflix for several hours. Or engaging with your friends in a virtual space.

Kristina Supler: That’s a great point, Susan. Cause I hadn’t thought about that in terms of, is playing a video game really all that different from just watching tv? Mm-hmm. Arguably not. And yet, some might argue that video games are unfairly vilified versus A kid plopped in front of the television on Netflix for three, four hours.

Susan Stone: What I get concerned about though, is I’m a big pleasure reader. As are you. I am, I love to curl up with a good book and a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. I’m not that picky on my beverages. But do you think Andrew kids are just reading for pleasure anymore? 

Andrew Fishman: I think yes. I think it depends on the kid and it depends on the environment they grew up in.

I think that people watch their parents more than they realize. And so if you are the kind of person who is saying, you should be reading more and you mean it, but you are on your phone playing Candy Crush for several hours a day, they see that. Yeah. They see that. That’s what people do. 

Where if you are the kind of person who shows them through your actions of other things to do. If you are the kind of person who does dedicate time to reading, they might pick that up. If you read with them and or find books, go to the library, find books recommended for them. Find that ones that they would really enjoy. A lot of kids would choose a book 

Susan Stone: Or cooking. I spent a lot of time with my 17 year old in the kitchen and we cook some wacky things. 

Kristina Supler: But I love the, it’s just food for thought for parents in terms of, no pun intended. There you go. The environmental influence, sometimes Susan and I deal with parents who all over the country are dealing with various issues tied to, you know, a child being in crisis and kids, students of all ages. And sometimes it’s, we get these cases with these really big issues. and there’s all these therapists and counselors and you name it with outside professionals involved. 

And sometimes it’s like the easiest, not easiest, but simple things shouldn’t be overlooked. You want your kid to read, have books in your house. You want your child to do be more active. Ha spend less time online with video games. Provide other options. Have other stuff in the house available. It’s just, I, as we’re talking, I’m just thinking about like the importance of not overlooking basics.

Susan Stone: I’m a big fan of KISS method. Keep it simple. So were any other parting thoughts? Is there anything we haven’t asked you that you really need our listeners to know about what you do? Warning signs, benefits, the floors open. I’m gonna say take your best shot. 

Andrew Fishman: I think one thing that I really want to address is the game Roblox.

Because it’s the most popular game. It’s the most popular game for I think, five to 12 year olds, or was last year at least. It’s a, it is a people misunderstand it. They think it is a game. it’s a platform for building and playing games. So all of the games you look like a little Lego person running around.

It’s very blocky, very sort of Minecraft aesthetic. But you can make any game you want using this software. So I think there’s, I think there are 4 million different games people to, for people to join. Like different, you can play tag or you can play a shooting game or you can raise pets. Or you can, there, there are millions literally of, different kinds of games you can play.

And it is as complicated as that because it’s so varied. They, the social environment in a game where people are gardening for fun is gonna be very different than one where people are playing something for doing something violent. 

There was shooting, yeah, there was a really notorious example that they took down. But existed for some time.

Was there was a on Roblox? on Roblox? Yes. Okay. So this was something you could go to, And join at least pub publicly for at least a while before they caught it and took it down. But there was a concentration camp simulator. 

Kristina Supler: Oh my God. Oh my gosh. 

Andrew Fishman: Which is, which is like the worst thing I could possibly think of for people to be going, I to be going and participating in. And this was not meant to be ed educational or anything.

This was just for fun doing some really hateful things. And so the people in that community are gonna be very different than the people in the other ones. And so parents here, I’m going on Roblox, and they think, okay, Roblox is fine. Roblox is a catchall term for a lot of things. Some of which are great and some of which are really not.

And so I think parents should be careful which games they’re playing on Roblox to play with them to see what kind of game culture they’re experiencing. There’s voice chat in the game itself. So if they can turn that on, then anybody can talk to you if you set, if you have that set onto, if you have that, setting set on.

So that’s something to be really careful about. And more than anything, I’d recommend that parents try the games themselves and play with a play along with their kids. Just say, Hey, you can playing that a lot. let me, can you show me how to do that? 

Susan Stone: That’s tonight’s dinner conversation.

You know what I do with my, daughter every night? We Wordle. Awesome. 

Kristina Supler: I love Wordle. My kids are big Wordlers too, but I’m not. 

Susan Stone: Yeah, you’re not a Wordler. 

Kristina Supler: I’m not a wordler, but my kids like that. I love Wordle. Yeah. 

Susan Stone: Yeah. I love world Wordle. And actually it’s interesting because I learn things about my daughter every time I play Wordle in terms of strategy. She’s far more strategic than I am I this roadblock though.

Listeners out there, 

Kristina Supler: good tip for parents. Really play the games with your kids. Know exactly what the games entail. That’s, again, really straightforward advice, but excellent advice and. 

Susan Stone: Ask questions. Wow. Wow. We packed a lot in 30 minutes. You did. 

Kristina Supler: Well, thanks for joining us, Andrew. It was a real, thank you so much for having me.

Yeah, it was a good time chatting with you about these online communities and the gaming world. And I think that you’ve, demystified some points for us and I think helped us, you know, or hopefully helped our listeners recognize that there’s some good in there too. And think about your own child and your circumstances and your family and just know what’s going on with the game. So thanks. 

Susan Stone: I’m still on Roblox I can’t get off of it, but thank you. 

Andrew Fishman: So I don’t wanna vilify Roblox. There’s a lot of good there too. There’s a lot of safe communities for kids. But there’s just be careful. Talk to your kids. Play the games with your kids. J. Make your own decision as a parent.

Yeah. But thank you so much for having me. Bye-Bye. Thank you.