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July 9, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 2 Faves: 0

Kids, Parents, & Video Games: 5 Tips for Coexisting

By Goldilocks More Blogs by This Author

Kids these days. They are just glued to the TV. Or the computer. Or the iPad.  Or a glowing screen of some sort.  Since we always kept our games in the basement my dad would call it “hiding in the hole.” It was a fairly accurate description – my brother and I, whenever we finished our homework for the day (and sometimes before we finished) would crawl down there and play until it felt like our thumbs would stop working from all the button pressing. To this day, I still play video games and I'm happily past the dreaded word “teenager.”

I know what it's like to be semi-addicted to video games. There is something delightfully comforting in their carefully designed mechanics that make them so easy to play for hours on end. There is a lot of psychological evidence now discussing the powerful reward system that literally hooks our minds on video games constant “one more turn” structure.  Rewards release feel good chemicals in our brain that convince us to continue and earn more rewards so we can keep the pleasant sensations coming.  Video games grant us these chemicals on a regular basis when we complete the tasks and quests set before us.  Leading us to become deeply engaged in what we are doing, even if we are aware that the game is only a virtual reality.  

I am not a parent, so the perspective of the parent is difficult for to understand. I am, however, a very paranoid student in a constant state of worry over my grades. I know the fear of logging too many hours on the computer and not enough on the books. Balance is the all-important goal that every nerdy student wants to achieve in their lives and it is one of the hardest. 

As a kid who loves games here is my advice to parents:

#1 Talk to your kids

Ask them about their lives – in school, social, and virtual. Ask them everyday, every single day, if they have homework. Then ask them to describe that homework to you. Video games should be a reward system for doing well in academics or extracurricular actives. Keeping in touch and making sure that these more important tasks are done first not only help the student stay focused on what's important, but it also keeps you involved in your kid's life and interests.

#2 Be active in the game choices your kids make

This doesn't mean breathing down their neck at the store as they buy the games but it does mean talking to them about what they like and why they like it.  Having an active interest in what your kids like builds a level of trust that is important to any relationship.  Watching them play the games, (try to avoid commenting too much) merely watching, will help you understand.  Asking questions and looking for clarification is a great way to see your kids eyes light up.  People love to talk about what they love.  Just try not to be judgemental or dismissive. Eventually, they'll be pretty comfortable with you there and you may even enjoy playing with them.

#3 Be fair

There are different types of games and they can have varying ways of exposing the player to unfolding events.  Understanding how most games are played helps you understand how long kids might want to play for. Turn or level based games are best for time limits.  They often conveniently pause on the players turn, allowing for saving so as soon as time runs out, they can save and quit.  Other, more open-ended, plot based games, might be more difficult to judge how long it takes to do something. Getting to a save point can be a grueling task and no one wants to lose their progress just because the clock chimed. Waiting and watching work best here, then when there is a good time to save, that's the time to remind the kids to quit.

#4 Be consistent

Since video games can be used as rewards for good behavior, they can also be used in punishments. Be consistent in how you allot time for games. Changing the rules on a whim isn't a good idea nor being overly lax. Being too hard on kids can be even more damaging, especially when they see the time they have for their games as a way to wind down from a hard day. This doesn't mean don't have any rules at all, it just means that rules should be clear and easily enforced. Make sure the kids now where their priorities are: grades first, games second.  

#5 Try to understand

A lot of video games are a release mechanism that helps kids deal with stress and anxiety. It might not look like that when they're busy killing people by the dozen in their virtual world but that world is one that they control and feel comfortable in. It is similar to escapism, and it relaxes people because it allows the mind to not over-think limited-scope scenarios of the game. Kids need this sort of element in their lives; removing it might do more damage than good. It is better to simply regulate than go cold turkey.

Video games can be a useful and fun recreational activity for kids. To simply deem them bad and banish them forever is just as foolish as letting kids play non-stop for hours.  "Everything in moderation" is a much more achievable goal!  As long as priorities are clearly defined, video games can be an engaging, skill building, entertaining, and even family oriented (depending on the game of course), release from a stressful day.   

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2 Comments

  • Interesting information about the reward system that videogames provide...

  • Great article, I never realized that being a parent and understanding video games could be so vast. I'm a video game player myself, but I never really understood all the questions parents have. I think it is because video games are seen as a bad thing in society, where people waste away time. It has been categorized into something that is negative. It can be pretty helpful in teaching kids how to strive for goals (for example, RPG games, they teach persistence; Mario teaches quick motions and memorization).

    I think I will use your list when I have kids so I can follow how to allot times for video games, that is, when I am not playing their games instead! (J/K, lol, or am I kidding??)

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