I’ve wrote about this before but it keeps coming up. One of the most common complaints I hear from parents is that their children–particularly the boys–play video games too much, and yet when I ask the parents which games their children play I have yet to have a single parent that knows. That’s a remarkable demonstration of how a busy life lowers our awareness.
If it’s worth complaining about it’s worth knowing at least something about it, but instead every game is thrown into one pile as though they are all equal when some are mindless addictions and others require great thought. There’s strategy games, puzzle games, war-based games, society-based games, team games, solo games, and each will have its own moral angle and points system, so how can all of those be seen as one thing?
Not knowing anything about the games is like saying a kid reading a textbook is the same as a kid reading People Magazine. (Note I didn’t use comics because in my experience the smartest adults I know were often comic readers.) There are millions of games. There is a reason that their fans love them.
As I’ve noted before, it should come as little surprise that the very first location that took off in Second Life was a dance bar called Wheelies and it created a meeting place for users in wheelchairs. In a virtual world someone in a wheelchair is just as mobile and capable as someone out of it so you can see why they would value it. A lonely kid can value team games, a leader can like them too. An independent person can love first-person shooters that allows them to team up when they choose, or they may prefer a game that requires great patience and planning.
Video games today can encourage good behaviour. They get you to love characters before they die in real storylines, creating more empathy. Whereas they used to give you awful choices like raping prostitutes, those same game designers now have daughters of their own and now the same game makes you calmly do yoga or you can’t continue to the next level. I watched this have a real impact on a friend of mine who learned to moderate his quick temper thanks to it.
If parents added up how many hours they look at the screens on their TV’s, their computers and their phones they would realise they are screen-watching a huge amount of the day so it’s no surprise kids are comfortable sitting and looking at screen just as the children of joggers are often joggers and just as the children of big eaters are often big eaters. That’s the real parenting, not what you say; it’s what you do.
Try to get your kid to teach you some games. If you’re lucky you might even like the same type. But at least at the start they’ll get to beat you a lot and that’s good for a kid as long as they don’t try to turn it into a habit and thereby become a poor loser. Each parent has to make decisions about their situation and their kid, but it’s important to note that many children of divorce talk about how valuable it was to be able to bury their head in a game while they watched their parent’s marriage descend into bickering.
Nothing is good or bad only thinking makes it so. If everyone from military leaders to 747 pilots to astronauts can advance themselves using virtual training then there’s no reason to think that your child isn’t also developing themselves. Certainly they could just be hiding from life, but if you don’t even know the games they’re playing then you can’t hope to guess if that’s where they’re at.
Slow down. Pay attention. Trust yourself. From there the love for your child will tell you all you need to know. Kids are future adults. Whether we like it or not they will be shaped by the forces around them. Rather than try to push against them, start working with them. You might find you have more allies than you’ve realised.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.