Recognizing Toxic Behavior When Gaming

Toxicity in online circles, particularly in regards to gaming, is becoming an increasingly important issue for children and their health. We do our best to protect our children from toxicity in the outside world, but what about online? 

Toxicity in online circles can look very different than toxic behaviors displayed in person, but they do often correlate. Toxicity is described as any behavior that an individual presents that unnecessarily adds negativity and/or stress to your life. People who are prone to toxic behaviors will often cause unnecessary drama and conflict; they continually gaslight others (act as if they’re actions are rational and your response is not) and often refuse to see the error in their ways. Some signs of toxicity include: 

Manipulation: people who exhibit this toxic behavior will try to influence you or others into changing your actions for their benefit, regardless of your needs or wants.

Inconsistency: people exhibit erratic behavior; they are never just content, often they are either extremely upset, or extremely joyous. They also harbor inconsistent feelings towards others. 

Attention-seeking behaviors: causing drama, distractions, using manipulative tactics (such as emotional blackmailing) are all ways that a person who is exhibiting toxic behavior may seek attention from others. They may also try to seem vulnerable and seek help from others when it is not warranted. 

Disrespect of boundaries: Toxic behaviors such as ignoring other’s boundaries can consist of visiting them when they have asked to be left alone, intruding on their personal physical space, going through their things, etc. A person exhibiting toxic behaviors will not respect another’s boundaries; they will break them to create control and upset. 

Substance abuse: Often, toxic behaviors arise when individuals are suffering from substance abuse (this may not be relevant to your children, but it is important to mention). 

If you suspect that someone you, or your children, know are exhibiting toxic behavior, the most important thing you can do is to keep yourself and your family safe, then to provide help to the person if possible. I refrain from saying ‘toxic person’ because, often, these behaviors are common in many people. Being ‘toxic’ is not a mental illness or proper diagnosis of any kind. It is just an adjective we use. If someone exhibits this type of behavior, it does not mean they will display it forever; they are not branded ‘toxic’ for the rest of their lives. Often, with the right mental health resources and reinforcements, they grow out of these behaviors, especially when dealing with children

Toxic Behavior Online

Online, these behaviors can manifest themselves in different ways. For example, manipulatively asking players to give up their resources or asking players to ask their parents for money for resources in a game (to give to the person exhibiting toxic behavior) is one common representation of manipulation online. Another example would be consistently causing issues or drama within the online community (by breaking down houses, for example, in

Minecraft); starting fights between players, taking issue with game rules, etc. Attention-seeking behaviors may represent themselves as consistently asking players to remain online, even after parents have asked them to give the game a rest for the night or seeming vulnerable just to gain resources from another player. Inconsistency within feelings towards the game itself or players in the online community can manifest as mood swings when online or talking behind other players’ backs, etc. Boundary issues may arise when a player refuses to let another player leave or when one player forces another to send over their passwords, address, phone number, etc. Parents, keep a close eye on your child’s online friends; if any of these behaviors seem familiar, you can try any of these actions to remedy the situation: 

– Explaining to your child why their friend’s actions are wrong and can be considered toxic. – Calmly confronting the child’s parents if possible; helping your child confront their friend. – Helping your child set stricter boundaries and assisting them in enforcing their new boundaries. 

– Offering the friend or their parents mental health resources. 

– Encouraging your child to stop being friends/interacting with their friend (if nothing else has worked). 

In any situation like this, communication is always key. Make sure that your child fully grasps why their friend’s behavior is inappropriate and that they do not deserve to be treated as such. Making sure that you know all of your child’s friends, especially online, can certainly help to diminish the risk of exposing your child to toxic online behavior. Monitoring their internet access and creating strict boundaries online is also likely to help your child in the long-run (Brennan, WebMD, 2020). While toxicity online is a very real issue for parents and children, it is often preventable and can usually be dealt with easily! Enjoy safe online gaming!


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