I don’t think that there is as polarizing an issue in parenting today as the one that centres around kids and video games. On one side, there are avid gamers who defend their stance that games offer benefits that other activities don’t. On the other, there are people who believe that video games are a mindless pastime and create a culture of non-interactivity.
Due to there being so many different viewpoints and opinions, it is hard to zero in on what actually needs to be addressed when it comes to what and how often our kids are playing. Even a quick Google search on the issue will take you down a rabbit hole of data, stats, and studies that cover everything from suggested play time to combating video game addiction.
At the end of the day though, as parents, all we really want to know is whether the activities our children are participating in are providing safe and positive experiences. I find that if we frame the discussion around this simple idea, it can be much easier to come to some conclusions about what is best for them when it comes to their video game/screen time habits.
Before I go any further, I don’t feel that I can continue to write about this topic without revealing that I have always played video games and I imagine that I always will. While I am well aware that this fact may create some bias on my part, I am also more than able to admit that video games and “screen time” can cause some issues if not dealt with appropriately.
So how do we ensure that our children are getting those positive experiences while, at the same time, avoiding potential problems? I don’t have a definite answer for that, but I do think that approaching the subject from a more experiential based perspective can allow us to determine what is best for our kids.
Now, this all sounds well and good, but as most of you probably know, the problem with this is that quite often, what we think is best for them doesn’t always mesh with what they want. As a result, we tend to either get critical of their habits and the time spent on video games or feel guilty/ashamed when we “give in” let them play. So the question remains: how do we, as parents, address concerns over what our kids are playing, how much they’re playing, and determining whether or not their experiences are positive or detrimental? I know that everyone’s situation is going to be different based on a number of different factors, but here is some approaches that have worked in our home.
The Issue of Content
There is no question that video games have come along way since we were kids. Advancements in visuals, gameplay, and production have greatly increased the immersion that we experience when we play. Along with these visual advancements, great strides have also been made in the storytelling and narratives that exist within games. While this has led to the industry being able to hit a wider target audience, it has also led to some games becoming a lot edgier and a lot more mature.
It is not at all uncommon to see games that include mature content (violence, drugs, sexual content, etc.) in order to deal with some pretty heavy subject matter. However, these types of games should not be seen as the norm, instead they should act as a stark reminder that not everything is made for our kids. These types of games are aimed at a much more mature audience and were probably never intended to be played by younger players.
So how do we ensure that our kids are playing games that we feel are appropriate for them at their age and maturity? Simple – treat it as though it were any other form of entertainment (because it is). When you go to the theatre to see a movie with your children, chances are you take a few minutes to check out the film rating and content matter online. I also assume that most parents make sure that the books and comics that their kids read are age appropriate both in terms of reading level and subject matter.
I think that the same approach needs to be taken when choosing a video game for your child to play. Check out some reviews, watch trailers, and make an educated decision with your child about what games would be appropriate for them to play. We don’t let them determine whether they are mature enough to handle violent or disturbing content in movies or books, so we shouldn’t let them do so with video games either.
It is inevitable though, that our kids will be exposed to mature video games, just like they will be exposed to mature movies/TV shows as they continue to get older. I think the importance here lies not in the content that they are exposed to, but the conversations that happen during or afterwards. This is easy when it comes to TV or film because quite often we are watching the content with them, and thus able to monitor and discuss what they’re seeing and the impact that it has.
It’s a lot different with video games because more often than not, kids are playing by themselves and not with their parents, especially if the parent isn’t all that into video games. I think that easiest fix here is simply taking an interest and talking to them about what they’re playing. It should be pretty easy from these conversations to tell whether what they are playing is appropriate or not. My kids love talking about the games they are playing, and in that excitement, I can usually get a good idea about the content and stories they are experiencing within those games.
The Playtime Conundrum
Have you ever wondered why some kids love playing video games and why they want to continue playing, even when you want them to do something else? Here’s the answer – they are a lot of fun. The control, the interactive stories, the action, and the challenge are all examples of what make this form of entertainment so enjoyable for kids (and adults, for that matter).
The problem comes when we, as parents, start to feel like our kids may be playing a little too much. I don’t know about you, but when I see my kids having fun, I’m inclined to want to let them continue to have fun. I also know that sometime, when I need a break or some time to get something done, video games can be a great way to consume their time and keep them occupied. Therein lies the rub though, because even though it’s fun and enjoyable for them, it can definitely consume their attention to the point where they start to prioritize video games over other areas of importance.
I feel that this issue is something that we are continuously revisiting because we all talk about how much our kids are playing games, but it doesn’t feel like anyone has come up with a definite answer as to how much is too much. The reason for this, I believe, is because I don’t think that you can assign a number to it. I feel that as soon as something starts to overshadow the things that you and your family prioritize and value, it can be considered to be too much. Therefore it is really up to parents to decide what works for them and then monitor the activity in order achieve a balance that is healthy and appropriate.
When talking with my own kids about this matter, I always use the idea that video games, like TV and movies, are meant to be a recreational activity that we turn to when we need to unwind, relax, and decompress. As soon these activities start to become part of the daily routine, they are no longer being used for their intended purpose. If this occurs, we need to be able to actively recognize the change in behaviour and make adjustments so that their gaming habits don’t turn into something more than recreation.
I know that sometimes having to put some restrictions on video game use can lead to disagreements between parent and child. However, I think that by having educated and reasonable conversations with our children about moderation and appropriate use, we can hopefully eliminate some of the arguments that may arise when we do have to step in and monitor their gaming habits.