Let’s face it: parenting styles differ, and one place they collide is around the question of whether you let your kids play video games. If you do let your kids play video games, you’ve probably experienced a raised eyebrow, a blank stare, whispering behind your back, or even a blunt comment: “We never let our kids near those things.”
As if video games were sheer cliffs or ticking time bombs.
Sure, some video games, like some movies and TV shows, are violent and inappropriate for young kids—that’s what ESRB ratings are for. But there’s a whole world of games out that there that are creative, educational, fun, social, and just plain sweet.
Here are some tips for dealing with those parents whose parenting styles don’t match yours—those anti-gaming frenemies:
- Find out how much they actually know. It’s hard to realize that for some people games are a total mystery—you might as well be explaining cars to a caveman. If the person is at that level, a lot of analogies might help. You can compare video games to movies and books, of course, but you can also compare them to board games or sports, like chess or football. Don’t forget to point out that you can’t tell much from a game’s name. (World of Warcraft is not a very violent game; Halo does not have a religious theme.)
- Explain that there are millions of different kinds of games now—puzzle games, motion games, strategy games, art games, music games, educational games, and games that aim to spur social change or improve your health.
- Explain how games encourage sociability. People make friends in games. Real friends. Kids who have trouble making friends in real life might have an easier time making friends in games and then meeting up in person later. Kids use games as a way to socialize in the same way you use a book club or a sport.
- Tell them about the rich world of educational games. Playing Endless Alphabet for instance, might be more effective at teaching letters than Sesame Street. Educational games are being developed that are aligned with Common Core educational standards and have the advantage of built-in testing and evaluation.
- Explain how games can be used as a stepping-off point for meaningful conversations with your kids. Games are even better than car rides. Some of the best conversations I had with my son when he was growing up grew from his ideas about a game he was playing. The best and longest conversations spring from playing with your kid.
- Tell the most critical parents about motion games. Games are available now that encourage fitness by providing great workouts and motivating people to move.
- Explain how games of all kinds help you learn just about anything: how to draw, how to read, how to communicate, how to be a leader, how to concentrate, how to dance. They can teach history, math, programming—the list goes on and on. Games motivate people to stick with the learning process.
- Make the point that games can increase your empathy, because in many games you’re putting yourself in another person’s place.
- Tell them that regardless of their feelings about games, games are the primary entertainment choice for young people. More than 90% of kids play video games. For some kids, video games are a more important activity than sports. Ask whether, if your son or daughter plays basketball, you would go to the games. Or if you can’t make a game, would you talk about it afterward? If your kid is more interested in video games than sports, why should that dynamic be any different? Even just sitting and watching—as you would watch a sports event—or asking about the game (you could even cheer), shows kids you care about their interests. Games don’t have to cut into homework time or make kids more sedentary or less social.
The bottom line is that pretty much ALL parents—even critics of video gaming—should get more informed about games. Showing an interest in your kids’ interests, whatever they are, is one of the best ways to connect with them.