Video games can serve many functions in young people’s lives—they can help them learn challenging concepts, bond with friends, try on new identities, get active (think Nintendo Wii or Xbox Kinect or PlayStation Move games), and play out fantasies (Guitar Hero comes to mind). Within boundaries, video games can help kids broaden their horizons, provide meaningful social interaction, and learn about the world.
That’s all good—in theory. In reality, video games are much like other forms of media—books, movies, music—in that there’s varying quality in the games themselves. It’s important for parents to be in on the decision making about the games that are in their homes.
Still trying to get that cassette tape to spool?
Parents have a gate-keeping role to play. They control, or should control, the media that is brought into their homes. This can pose a challenge for parents who feel disconnected from the world of video games, who aren’t ‘gamers’ themselves, and who don’t know where to turn for insight and guidance. It can feel like a digital divide between you and your kids. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Taking an interest and asking questions from the gamers in your household is the first step to crossing that divide, and then just demolishing it.
When I was in high school, like many teenagers, I spent untold hours holed up in my bedroom listening to “my music.” My music infiltrated the house with its moody melodies. My mother constantly reminded me to TURN IT DOWN OR SHE’D TURN IT OFF. My music created a sonic moat between us. My father took a different approach. He attempted to listen with me. The first time he asked me what I was listening to and could he listen too, I was suspicious and surprised. REALLY?? You want to listen to the Cure? Of course he didn’t want to listen to the Cure. He wanted to do something with me and understand why I cared so much about this “noise.” I won’t lie--it was awkward at first; then awesome. I enjoyed sharing this part of my private existence with my father. It bonded us. He never understood my attraction to boys in eyeliner, but he listened to the music with me. By doing so, he listened to me. And that made all the difference.
It’s the same with video games. Ask to watch during game time. Be a part of the peanut gallery. Watch for what’s happening in the game and talk about it. In fact, this can become a regular thing. Make popcorn. Watch your kids play and take part in the social activity that surrounds the game.
Bring back family game night
Just because you grew up on games that were played in the yard or on a board, doesn’t mean that you can’t learn how to play video games. It may feel awkward at first, but like anything else, you’ll get better at it. And while you are getting better, your kids will have the delightful experience of beating you (and teaching you the ropes). It can be an incredibly bonding experience to play in the spaces that your kids play.
Or you may be an experienced gamer, one of the many adults who love games for all the reasons that kids love games. But somehow life has gotten too busy to play anymore…there are too many obligations, responsibilities, deadlines, and emails to check. Those things will ALWAYS be a part of your life. You are an adult. But what won’t always be around are your kids in your family home. While you have them under your roof, take the time to play with them. The benefits of family game night are many---improved communication, bonding, and lifelong memories are just a few.
Most libraries now have game nights, and many have games that can be checked out, like a book or video. If your local library or school library does not offer this, talk to the librarian about getting a small collection of games for checkout.
BrainPOP offers some games for free, has amazing educational games, and games for little ones.
For parents who’d like to dig a little deeper, there are many resource guides out there to help you navigate the world of video games so you can make good choices for your family.
Parents’ Guide to Video Games
There are also sites dedicated to reviewing games, so you can better understand the possibilities in your child’s play:
Don’t let perceived lack of time or experience in the world of video games be deterrents from communicating with your kids, spending quality family time together, and exploring this vast and potentially enriching arena.