Your Kids and Gaming: Considerations beyond Screen Time

Article updated as of September 30, 2015.

If you’re a parent who starts the video game conversation with lectures on screen time, you could be setting yourself up for an “in one ear out the other” experience.

Gaming is everywhere and parents should be educating themselves about it instead of automatically restricting it, said Rosalind Wiseman, a parenting educator and New York Times bestselling author. Parents often aren’t familiar with the video games their kids are playing.  In result, parents likely have the mindset that games are dangerous or bad so they simply focus on enforcing screen time limits to prevent rotting the collective brain cells of our nation’s youth.

Except parents have forgotten technology is cool. Not only that, technology solves a lot of problems and has a multitude of benefits. According to Wiseman,  “games are a great way to get kids involved, working hard, and learning more effectively. Video games can create an effective learning process, which is why many schools are now incorporating game theory into how they teach.” As an example, educational websites like vocabulary.com offer games that help engage children with adaptive learning techniques.

However, there are certain games that are inappropriate for various age levels. So how do we encourage beneficial gaming opportunities while also setting common sense boundaries? A great place to start is just talking with your child about gaming and personal responsibility. Here are a few tips to get you prepared for that conversation.

Do Some Research
Most parents define gaming by consoles like Xbox and PlayStation, but it also occurs on laptops, tablets, and even phones. Ask your child about where they go to play games and what kinds of games they are playing. There’s a big difference between playing Call of Duty for an hour with friends, and getting completely immersed for days at a time in an in an ongoing multiplayer online game like World of Warcraft.

The point, according to Wiseman, is parents need to know this stuff before talking to their kids in order to maintain credibility. Research the games by using Google and reading online reviews from actual gamers who explain the intricacies in detail. If your child already has the game in question, sit with them and watch them play it to witness the game’s content, as well as your child’s reactions and behaviors while playing. “Kids don’t take us seriously because we’re attempting to regulate something we know very little about,” Wiseman said. “So when you talk to them, show them your research so they know that you’re invested.”

Consider Your Own Tech Behavior
Before you start in on your kids for too much screen time, it might be wise to evaluate your own habits. Are you always returning emails, even at the dinner table? Have you not heard your kids asking you questions because you’ve been too busy playing Angry Birds or Candy Crush? Kids aren’t stupid, Wiseman said, and if you try to lecture them without practicing what you preach, they’ll sniff it out immediately.

Also, if you deem a video game too violent or inappropriate, be prepared to get called out by your kids when they catch you reading books or watching movies that are just as bad as the video games. “We’re forced to come face to face with our acceptance of violence as entertainment in other areas,” Wiseman said.

Understand Games Are Social Connectors
Some parents may think video games are silly, but they are arguably the most influential form of media in existence today. And while parents spent their youth playing stickball until the streetlights turned on, kids today form bonds via gaming. “It’s vital when we talk about young people and games, to recognize that gaming is very important to them because they feel creative, they meet people and develop a values system,” Wiseman said. “That needs to be acknowledged if you want to talk to young people about video games and actually have them listen.”

Wiseman also said gaming can level the playing field. If children are good at gaming, it doesn’t matter how they look, where they fit in the social hierarchy, or whether they excel at sports. So when they’re playing Call of Duty with friends, understand that is part of their social dynamic. Tied to this, kids need to know bad language, bullying, and offensive references are no more acceptable via video game consoles than they are in physical interactions, Wiseman said. As the use of technology becomes more engrained in our daily lives, being a good digital citizen is going to be more important than ever before.

Be Realistic with Restrictions
This is the toughest issue for parents -- you’re putting limits on children, and they are likely to turn around and test those limits. Wiseman, whose kids are 14 and 12, does not allow her kids to play video games during the school week and allows them 90 minutes a day on weekends. But because her kids routinely go over to their friends’ houses and have access to games on their phones, she knows those restrictions are not always followed. “It doesn’t stop them from playing video games more often than I allow,” Wiseman said. “The reality of the situation is kids can pretty much play games whenever they want, so it becomes more about understanding and acceptance.”

Instead of canceling data plans and changing the Wi-Fi password every day, which would only be taxing on her and her relationship with her kids, Wiseman said she fights the larger battles worth fighting. She will ban certain games that have objectionable content, and implement other rules such as not allowing her children to charge their cell phone overnight in their bedroom, which prevents them from using their phone in private.

Avoid Overreacting and/or Shaming
Unfortunately, viral kid-shaming videos are trending. Whether it’s a parent destroying his child’s laptop for bad behavior or punishing a kid by chopping up his Xbox on YouTube, some parents have figured out shaming their children is an easy way to get 15 minutes of fame and praise for “tough love.” But those people are missing the point. “Parents are supposed to have mature, thoughtful brains. So what’s the excuse of an adult who breaks the computer or Xbox?” Wiseman pointed out. “Shaming children doesn’t ever work.”

If kids are playing Minecraft and they build a world for themselves that is destroyed by an angry parent, they justifiably take it as bullying. “If somebody comes into your world and destroys it, they’re taking advantage of their power to destroy something and that is bullying to a 7-year-old,” Wiseman said. “The lessons we teach kids about family values only work when put into a context they care about.”

To learn more about how children are gaming in and out of the classroom, listen to the Follett sponsored podcast on gamification featuring Wiseman and Follett School Solutions’ Senior Vice President of Content Services and Solutions Nader Qaimari.

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