Are you one of those parents who runs screaming from any room where video games are being played? “They’re so loud!”
Or do you sneer at games? “They’re violent. They’re a waste of time. They’re annoying.”
Or do you titter like a Victorian heroine and wail? “I’ll never, ever understand those video games!”
Parents of gamers often make these kinds of exaggerated comments, which stem from fears and misconceptions about video games as a medium. But video games are mainstream media now. It’s time for all parents—and that means you!—to take up a controller and do battle with some monsters.
If you’re not convinced you can or should play video games with your kids, here’s a better reason to try it: Gaming will improve your relationship with your kids. Especially your teenagers.
We all know Job #1 for teens is to separate from their parents. But one trick to separating well is doing it gradually while preserving a healthy connection. A healthy connection is nurtured when you do things together, and video gaming is one of those connection activities—like sports, travel, or watching movies. In fact, gaming may be the best thing ever for connecting with teenagers. Here are five reasons why.
Reason #1: Kids Can Teach You for a Change (and Learn to Empathize With Your Frustrations at the Same Time)
When I played my first video game, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, it took me at least 70 tries to kill the first boss. Because there were 17 different ways to manipulate the controller’s joystick, the trigger, and the many buttons, I was stymied for a good long while against Queen Gohma, Parasitic Armored Arachnid. My kids learned some excellent teaching methods. Like:
- Employing repetition: “Press the A button. Yes, the A button. Yes, that one. The one that says “A” on it. Press it now. NOW!”
- Asking questions and giving positive feedback: “Remember which button you use to swing the sword? The A button. That’s right. You did it, Mom!”
- Making liberal use of hints: “When the eye glows red like that, what do you think it means, Mom?”
- Standing firm in the face of a student’s whining: “Why don’t you press the A button and see what happens?”
Reason #2: You Can Model Patience and Persistence for Your Kid (or at Least How to Recover from a Freak-Out)
Assassin’s Creed is an adventure game. It’s based on a science fiction story involving aliens and the Knights Templar. It’s fun and beautiful. And sometimes it’s difficult. I had trouble climbing towers, jumping, fighting bad guys, and solving some of the puzzles. My kids would watch me try and try. Sometimes I messed up so many times they’d shake their heads in wonderment that I hadn’t quit. Once or twice I threw the controller down and said, “I’ll never get this!” But then I’d get some rest, go back, and try again, and eventually I’d prevail. I think my kids learned that everyone has different abilities, and something that’s easy for me (cooking dinner) could be hard for them, while something that’s easy for them (climbing a tower) could be incredibly hard for me. They also learned that persistence in the face of a ludicrous amount of failure can be a good thing.
Reason #3: Playing Together Can Put You on the Same Side
When I was having trouble getting along with my teenage son, nothing helped more than teaming up with him to defeat a hard boss in World of Warcraft. Problem-solving with your kid is a proven way to bring you closer together.
Reason #4: You Can Explore and Discuss Crucial Moral Questions as a Family
Like movie and TV plots, video game plots offer many opportunities to discuss moral and ethical issues, such as the conditions under which war may be justifiable, for example, or when it’s better to run away than fight. Some games have relationship storylines that can lead to discussions about why no always means no. Other games are actually designed to help gamers explore moral and ethical issues. Here is a cool article about award-winning games that tackle serious issues.
Reason #5: You Can Spend Quality Time Together While Improving Your Health
You want to live a long time and still have all your marbles, right? Video games can help maintain your cognitive abilities and your physical health. Which might increase the chances that you’ll be there for your kids now and in the future. And exercising together in a game with family members is just a fantastic way to spend time together. The only problem is that sometimes it’s hard to keep up with your strong, in-shape kids. But that’s an excellent problem to have, right?