I heard a mom say, “There’s nothing better than your kid telling his friends that his mom is a Pokémon master.” It’s pretty common for kids to be proud if their parents are good at gaming. And when I encounter gaming parents online, at a convention, or just out and about, they are usually excited to share what games they’ve been able to teach their kids. Sometimes these are game series that parents have grown up with themselves. Sometimes parents are learning the game along with their kids.
Coaching young people through games is not only a great way to bond, it also opens up chances to teach some lessons that are difficult to share in a classroom or are typically reserved for traditional sports.
Coaching Through Sports
I attended a very small school with graduating classes of about 40 people. Team activities were tough for us. With only 40 students per grade to choose from, putting together a team of any kind was a challenge. Despite these challenges, everyone recognized the advantages of implementing team sports.
There are certain lessons that cannot be taught as well in the classroom as on the field. Ideas about fairness, working together, and winning (or losing) gracefully are best learned in team competitions. My teammates and I learned a great deal thanks to good coaches and parents who got involved. These adults taught us to look at problems from several perspectives. They taught us to recognize our strengths and overcome our weaknesses. We learned how not to be discouraged by failure and to be gracious in victory.
Traditionally, one of the big advantages to teaching within the context of sports or academic teams is that they are centered on something the students enjoy. People simply learn more easily when they’re focused on something they feel passionately about. Children especially feel more confident to lead and trust each other while doing something that they love. Young students feel inspired to learn more on their own and share what they have learned when it comes to a game or competition they feel invested in.
Coaching Through Games
Sometimes, however, kids are not interested in or feel intimidated by teams at school. There is no reason why an introvert or a kid whose interests simply lie more in video games should miss out on the lessons afforded by traditional team sports. This is not to suggest that there is a dichotomy between athletic kids and gamers—quite the opposite, really. Most kids play outside as well as play video games.
The point, rather, is that parents and teachers have long used coaching team sports and activities to teach and bond with children, and there is no reason video games should be viewed any differently.
Many video games offer as many chances to teach lessons about persistence, teamwork, and winning and losing gracefully as games like basketball or soccer. Parents and teachers are increasingly recognizing this potential in games, but stepping into the role of gaming coach or cheerleader can be a little daunting to adults who are new to gaming. Thankfully there are several resources out there to help introduce parents and new players to games, resources such as Pixelkin.org or official sites for specific games.
Learning From Your Kids
Parents should also remember that kids can teach you as much as you teach them. Start off by asking children what their favorite games are and why. In my experience, a kid’s favorite game can change rapidly, and their reasons for loving a particular game can be hilariously unpredictable. I’ve heard reasons ranging from “Everyone loves watching me play this game” to “I have to defeat my friends!”
Ask them about the toughest or most impressive thing they have accomplished in the game. This will lead not only to some great, excitedly regaled stories, but also might point to some aspect of the game you could help them with—if only by cheering them on.
Good games to focus on are those a little beyond the young person’s skill level. When I taught fourth- to sixth-graders, many students played Pokémon and other games targeted for their age group, but other boys and girls aspired to excel at more complex games like RuneScape, Civilization, or World of Warcraft. While the games aimed at teens were definitely playable by the younger kids, mastering these games was a little more of an uphill battle. Kids in their tweens especially start to look for games that are not strictly marketed to kids.
Mastering the games their older siblings or parents play is almost a rite of passage. The chance to play with adults or even just talk about a game can be huge for these kids. As more than one fifth-grader has pointed out to me with some indignation, adults “can treat fifth-graders like little kids!” Especially as they enter middle school and high school, kids often love the opportunity to share a hobby with adults almost as peers.
We already have a tradition of getting involved and showing an interest in the sports kids play outside or in a gym. It is not much of a step further for adults to get involved and validate a kid’s interest in video games as a hobby. The chances to teach, learn, and grow together are too great to overlook, and the rewards are certainly worthwhile.