I know many parents worry about the amount of time their kids play video games. They worry about the obsessive behaviours that cause arguments every time they are asked to turn off the games. They worry about homework being ignored. They worry about not enough fresh air and outside play. They worry about stunted social skills and a lack of real life connections. They worry about a child more interested in a virtual world than seeking out adventure in the real world around them.
For many, these are very valid concerns. They feel their children are slipping in to a world of video game obsession or even addiction. For some who are diagnosed as addicted (of which there are few), then they need professional intervention. Most parents however, are just frustrated at how much time their kids play video games. Feeling somewhat helpless, they continue to whinge to their children about how much time they are wasting and lament to their friends how powerless they are against the might of the virtual playground.
We know many kids who love playing games are not going to stop playing them any time soon.What we need to do however, is to incorporate the technology and the games into our lives in a way that is healthy and balanced and keeps it under control.
Here’s a few things to do…
Change your attitude
When we make a conscious decision to look at things from our child’s perspective, we are letting them know we get it. We get why they want to play. We have rules about it, but we still get it and we can work together. We are therefore helping to steer their behaviour rather than dictate it.
Whenever we want our kids to do something, the way we go about asking them to do it has a huge impact on how the request is both received and to how it is responded. Instead of yelling at our kids to get off the playstation from the other end of the house, we can talk to them before they play about our expectations. Letting them have some input into the decision making and including them in the process, always results in much greater cooperation. When they are little, we can let them play a game then when time is up, rather than grabbing the device and saying ‘thats enough’, we can have something else ready and prepared for them to go on with. This way they don’d feel they are ‘in trouble’ for playing, but rather that it is just time to do something else. Having a go at playing a game with our kids also lets them see you have some perspective and relevance when it comes to making some rules.
If we look at the games as something that we need to incorporate into their lives in a healthy way rather than something that needs to be constantly curtailed, then we are likely to have much more success. We must still have rules and boundaries, but the reason for these rules is to keep our kids safe and healthy, not to stop their fun.
Don’t make video games the bad guy
We always want what we can’t have. When we are told something is bad for us, there is a little gut instinct that tells us its gotta be fun. And games are fun. We just need not make them into the bad guy.
I remember the feeling of getting our new Atari when I was little and racing home from school to play it. I dont remember ever having any real restictions on how long I could play. I probably just got to a point where I wanted to do something else, I got hungry, I wanted to see a friend, watch some TV or go for a swim. In those days our parents weren’t yet swamped with a litany of media to tell them how much damage was being done to our developing brains, or to our social and emotional intelligence. They also weren’t being told of any positive effects of game playing on our brains, or our social and emotional intelligence either. They were just something that was a new invention and another ‘toy’ for their kids to play with.
Today however, we are very quick today to see video games as the devil in disguise. Somehow parents are constantly feeling guilty for giving a child a device to play a game on instead of handing them colouring pencils. I’m not saying that they are not overused, because I do feel at times and by some parents that they are. But if we want to maintain a healthy relationship with the technology in our homes, we can’t always be treating it as something which is inherently bad for us.
Don’t make it a competition
The minute we make things a competition we need a winner. We don’t want a winner in our kids play. We want them to explore and enjoy a range of experiences that help them learn and grow.
It is not about screens versus nature. It is not about xbox versus digging in the sandpit. It is not about Minecraft versus lego and building blocks. It is not about Nintendo versus riding a bike or Wii versus backyard cricket. The minute we set up this competition, is the minute we have a battle on our hands.
Build a culture of inclusive play
By denying our kids the time and space to play the games they love, we are creating a sense of urgency within them that wont be appeased until they win the battle to get back on a game. If we are constantly exposing them to all sorts of experiences however, we have a much greater chance of creating an individual and a family culture that is far more inclusive. If we have days when we go out as a family and see things, explore, ride waves, build sandcastles, take photos or organise neighbourhood cricket matches then these experiences just become part of their life.
So let’s not get too caught up in stopping them from playing games and doing something they love. We can still have time limits, and boundaries around appropriate games and rules of respectful play. But by tweaking our attitude, we in turn tweak theirs, and they become better able to lead a life full of many varied experiences, of which gaming is just one.
Has video game playing become an issue in your household?
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Great advice here Martine. I am very guilty of making these games a competition. I will now try to set a boundary before they go on the games so when it’s time to get off it, they know they’re not in trouble it’s just time is up. Atari brings back a few memories