5 Shame-Free Ways To Help Your Video Game-Loving Kid Embrace IRL Friendships, Too

You want your kid to have a "normal" life, but normal looks different for everyone.

Kids jumping over controllers while playing outside AJ_Watt, JESHOOTS-com | Canva

If your child is constantly playing video games with virtual pals, rather than building friendships and making connections with other kids in real life, it can be concerning as a parent.

You might even wonder if your child knows how to make friends offline or if they have the social skills to do it, since you've noticed all along your kid does not tend to make friends easily in the first place.

Of course, you know play has changed since your childhood and virtual gaming is what kids do these days, but now your child spends nearly all of their time playing video games with online friends, you're worried they're not making friendships in the real world — and that it could lead to social problems down the line.


You want to help your kid improve their social skills so they develop meaningful friendships IRL, but when you try to talk about this dilemma with your child, they tell you, “My online friends are real friends! This is how people do things now.”

While that is true, you also know your child needs more than virtual buddies, and you want them to start making friends in real life.

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Having face-to-face relationships and making friends in day-to-day life is important for your kid's social development.

When children are in a group of friends or classmates, they are forced to adapt, to compromise and work together to play a game of four square or to complete a group project in civics class. Yet, what if you don’t want to compromise, or more importantly, you haven't yet developed the necessary social skills and don’t know how?

This is a difficult — and common — issue in modern parenting. Moms and dads are trying to evolve with technology, but as a parent, you worry the virtual world is like brain candy for your kid.

So, what can you do when you are faced with a child disappearing right after school and all weekend to an online world of video games?



Here are 5 shame-free ways to help a kid embrace video games and IRL friendships & hobbies.

1. Shift from "banning" to planning.

If you ban your child from playing video games and engaging in virtual friendships, your child will fight you, and it will become a battle.

So, what do you do? Continue to ask questions and explore what they like about playing video games. Ask your child, "What do you like about this virtual world?"

As adults, we tend not to ask, we tell. Instead, ask and let them talk about it.

Let them explain why Halo is the greatest video game ever. They may say something that makes you angry, but it is their truth — If they love this video game world and feel their skills are great in it, then it’s true for them.


This open discussion is the first step toward helping your child improve his social skills and encouraging him to make friends offline.

2. Together, explore what friendship is.

The basis of all friendships is to have close bonds, compatibility, emotional connection, persistent contact, shared activities and, most of all, trust and loyalty. Oddly, children and young adults desire these traits with in-person friendship, but often have no such expectations with online friendships.

Talking about what real friendship is — without judgment, fighting or scolding — will help your child learn to distinguish the difference between true friendships and online acquaintances, as well as understand why these social skills are so important.

3. Don’t surrender the conversation.

In your role as a parent, you're often engaged in difficult conversations. More importantly, you're not having theses conversations with someone who wants to have the conversation with you, but don't surrender the conversation.


Step into their shoes. Continue to talk and really explore this issue with them. Continuing to have an open, collaborative conversation is essential if you want to help your kid learn how to make friends offline and move from a world peopled by virtual acquaintances to a world where he has live friendships.

RELATED: How To Help When Kids Feel Left Out & Say They Have No Friends

4. Listen to your child, and find out what's getting in his way of making face-to-face friends.

In order to work with your child on his social skills, you really have to listen. Have a collaborative conversation with your kid to find out why he prefers hanging out with virtual friends, and then dissect what is getting in the way of him creating real, in-person connections.


There are many questions you can ask to get the conversation going:

"What do video games do for you?"

"What interests you most about video games?"

"Why is the online gaming world important to you?"

The virtual world offers a much easier entry to friendships. You get to make your own avatar. You can be whatever and whoever you want — a rock star, an athlete, etc. The options are endless.

Remember, kids who can’t read social cues in the real world don’t have to worry about it in the virtual world. Talk to your child about how to improve social skills in a cautious way that doesn’t shut him down or crush his spirit.

By first trying to understand the video game world from his perspective, you become a partner to your child — which makes him more receptive to your input and more willing to engage in pursuing friendships offline as well as online.


5. Get your child help with social skills.

Some kids who escape into the virtual world are also engaging in social avoidance. They might have struggled so much socially that making friends is hard for them. That's why getting your child help is essential for improving his social skills and developing face-to-face, as well as virtual friendships.

To have a real friendship, you have to form more than one connection. You might have friends over to study, go to the mall, walk to a coffee shop, or play ball at the park.

However, some kids don't do this. They spend a lot of their time playing video games and forming online friendships — so much so they might not know how to make friends face-to-face. They believe having online friends is "fine". Online friends are great, but you know your child needs more than online friends.

An open discussion can make your child re-evaluate — but don't expect an “ah ha” to happen overnight. Collaborate and be there for them, instead of targeting them with statements like "You have no real friends." Trust me, their online friends are very real!


Be your child's partner in this journey and help them develop the social skills needed to make friends offline, instead of going at them about their video game obsession.

RELATED: If You Want Your Kid To Have Friends, Tell 'Em To Do These 9 Things

Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed. is a personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them.