When my kids were tweens (9 to 12 or so), I noticed they didn’t like me quite so much anymore. Or at least they didn’t want to be by my side night and day. They took the first steps toward making their own lives—and their gaming was part of that. My son played turn-based roleplaying games. There he’d be in the basement for hours on end, consulting strategy guides and working his way through complicated Japanese titles like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. My daughter played cute animal games with her friends.
I didn’t understand video games then. My parental repertoire around gaming consisted of limiting screen time and supplying sustenance.
Parents of tweens: Don’t do what I did.
Almost all kids play video games these days, and many kids consider their gaming lives to be really important. As a modern parent, you can’t afford NOT to engage with your tweens around video gaming.
Here are some tips. Each one is linked to a special developmental milestone of tweens: increased independence, competency and self-esteem issues, identity exploration, privacy needs, intensified relationships with peers, and increased intellectual capacity.
1. Ask them what kinds of games they like and why. Developmental stage: increasing independence. Some kids love online role-playing games. Others like shooters. Still others like simulations such as The Sims or motion games like Just Dance. In the same way that you might identify yourself as an action-movie buff, for instance, kids will begin to identify themselves by the type of gamer they are—an MMO player, an FPS player, an indie gamer, etc. You can talk to them about their games and then talk about how their tastes might be different from yours and why that’s okay.
2. Research a new game and invite your kid to try it with you. Developmental stage: increased competency and confidence building. Your tweens are busy building competencies they’ll need later in life: skills like sportsmanship, leadership, and even coordination and dexterity. Being good at a game—and being able to show off their skills by teaching you—can help them build confidence and help you connect with them. Don’t be embarrassed—turn on Just Dance and dance your heart out!
3. Treat your gaming session like a car trip. Developmental stage: increased need for privacy; interest in sex & relationships. Every parent I know has observed that riding in a car with a kid is a good way to get a conversation going. Games are even better. Take a seat next to your gaming tweens and ask questions while they play. You can use a game’s story to get into nonthreatening discussions about relationships, values, and sometimes even risky behaviors like alcohol and drug use.
4. Ask to be included in an online gaming or group gaming session with your tween’s friends. Developmental stage: increased reliance on peers. This may not work for everyone. Some kids don’t want you to join their gaming parties (yes, as I said, that privacy thing kicks in). But some kids don’t mind. By tagging along on a group gaming experience, you’ll get to see how your kid relates to his or her peers. Later you can talk about how those relationships are going. If joining in is a no-go, start a conversation about group dynamics. In many games, each player as a specific role to fulfill—like healer or tank. Ask what your kid’s role in the group is and why they chose it (or didn’t choose it).
5. Go deep. Developmental stage: increased intellectual capacity. Games are some of the best discussion starters I’ve ever seen. The stories, the gameplay, the online communities—this is culture, just like movies, TV, and books. Kids will often give you their opinions about proper behavior (such as bullying), or ethical and moral issues presented in games. Violence? War? Gender identity? Discrimination and fairness? Religion? Freedom? Yes, today’s video games cover all that and more. One caveat: Games have ratings for a reason. You set the rules about what your kids can play in your home. That said, you might want to check out the detailed explanations about a specific game’s content in our Library to see how the official ESRB ratings match up with your family’s values.
Video games offer an incredible opportunity to engage with tweens. Give it a try, and let us know how we can help!