Three years ago, my children received a Playstation for Christmas. The gift was from both my husband and me, but my husband was definitely the one pushing this purchase, as he was eager to share his love of gaming with our kids. I, on the other hand, had never really been extremely passionate about gaming. I remember playing Pac Man on Atari with my dad as a kid, but that was the extent of my gaming experiences. I never have been very technologically savvy. Even now, I tend to shy away from techie things.
When our children received their gift, they were the first of their friends to start gaming and this scared me. I felt as if we were embarking on uncharted waters. Would we sink or swim? Questions (ridiculous ones) swirled around in my head. What would become of my gaming children? Would my kids end up as violent gaming junkies whose lives were wasted in front of a TV/computer until the wee hours of the morning? Would they develop a gaming disorder and have to be sent in for rehab? I voiced my concerns to my much calmer and more reasonable other half and he simply told me to stop worrying. He also told me that we would find ways of managing the kids gaming, just as we manage every other aspect of their little lives.
Three years later, I am happy to say that none of my children are in gaming rehab or are violent juvenile offenders. However, I have realized that all my worrying was a complete waste of time and energy. The gaming is completely under control in our household because of system we’ve adopted. Basically, we link the number of gaming hours they ‘earn’ each week to their weekday behavior. Each weekday they can ‘earn’ up to 3 points (before school, during school and after school) for making positive behavior choices. If they earn between 12-15 points throughout the week, then they can play one hour of video games on a Friday evening. As an extra bonus, if they’ve earned the full 15 points, then they ‘earn’ an additional hour on Saturday. Simply, stated…that’s our system. We also ensure that their gaming time doesn’t directly proceed bedtime. It’s important for them to have at least an hour to refocus, wind down and spend time reading. Notice how I say ‘earn’ instead of ‘give’. This isn’t something that is my responsibility…it’s their choice. How they decide to behave is up to them. We’re encouraging them to learn how to feel accountable for their actions and in return they’re able to earn credit towards doing something they enjoy. It’s a win win situation.
Despite only earning 2 hours a week, my kids do spend a lot of time talking about gaming with their friends. However, I see this as a social opportunity for them. They’re sharing a passion and interest with their friends. It’s pretty cool to see how creative and excited they are about it and to be honest, the emerging gaming technology is incredible!
I do believe that not only do I need to monitor the length they play but also who they’re playing/engaging with and what the gaming content entails. Our gaming area is in full view of everyone in the house. They can’t hide from us and I often stop to ask them about the game and who they’re playing with. Most often, they tell me to go away because I’m distracting them, but at the same time, I manage to get at least one of them to answer my prying questions.
Gaming is something that most kids will want to do at some point in their childhood. Several gaming platforms offer children a sense of freedom (A virtual one that is!), which in today’s world, they often aren’t able to experience, as most parents don’t feel comfortable letting their kids wander around the neighborhood anymore. As parents, it is in our power to allow our children to participate in the gaming world, but it needs to be within a controlled context that we can easily manage. You wouldn’t give your children access to endless bars of chocolate, so why would you give them access to endless hours of gaming time? My motto is: Everything in Moderation. Your kids will be happier because they are participating in something that’s pretty cool, technologically speaking, and you will be happier because you’ve established clear boundaries associated with the gaming culture in your house.
In the end, if you’re not in control, then your kids will be and that doesn’t benefit them or the family as a whole. So, as a family, adopt a gaming strategy that works for everyone. This may take some time and your kids might not want to comply at first. Be persistent but also be willing to re-evaluate the system if things aren’t quite working for everyone. It’s always better to work with your children than constantly be in conflict. Hopefully, these strategies will help improve the gaming culture in your family.