Parenting and Taming The Video Game Monster

boy totally engrossed in video gamesby Stacey Schifferdecker

Yes, I’m old, as my children gleefully tell me. The thing is, I really don’t get video games. I don’t understand what the attraction is and I really have no interest in finding out. My boys, however, could play for hours. They’re even happy just watching someone else play.

Now, my boys are not video game couch potatoes. They both play sports, take music lessons, hang out with friends, read books, do chores, and are active in church. Still, given a choice of activities, video games still rank very high, especially for my nine-year-old. To help keep his enjoyment of video games from turning into an obsession, I have found it very important to set strict guidelines about when, what, and for how long my boys can play.

When to Play
At our house, the rule is simple: no electronics until homework and chores are done, you have played outside for at least 30 minutes, and you have read a book for at least 30 minutes. I also don’t allow handheld games in bed during “light time” (our time after stories when the kids are in bed but can leave the light one). Light time is for reading.

Of course, you need to decide what works best for your family. Maybe a little video game time right after school helps your child transition home better than hitting the homework right away. Maybe your kids have no free time on school nights and you decide to restrict video games to weekends. Maybe your kids are more efficient than mine about getting ready for school and they actually have a little free time in the morning. Think about your children and your family schedule and then set play limits that work for you.

What to Play
I think educational trivia-type games sound fun, but they are never the ones my kids pick out. They want action! As my nine-year-old said, “I like to see things move.”

Everyone has their own standards of what they think is appropriate for kids to see in video games. I personally don’t object to games with cartoonish violence, such as two monkeys wrestling. I have a real objection to games that involve shooting, killing, or maiming. Those games don’t come in my house. Only you can determine what is appropriate for your kids. You can visit the Entertainment Software Rating Board to learn about the video game rating system and find the rating of any video game.

What about the games your kids might play at other people’s houses? You can’t control what other people have in their homes. Make sure your kids know what your standards are and why and trust them to make good decisions. Give them permission to make you the bad guy – “My mom would ground me for life me if I played that game!” Talk to other parents and try to learn what their standards are. If you are truly uncomfortable with your child visiting another home, have the play dates at your home instead.

How Long to Play Finally, it’s time for your children to play! How long before you pull the plug (and yes, I have literally pulled the plug once or twice when the kids didn’t shut down when I told them to). That may depend on other factors: for example, if we have had a busy week and I know the boys haven’t touched a game system all week, I may let them play for two or three hours on Saturday. And if I am sick enough to be stuck in bed, they can play as long as they want to! Usually, though, an hour is enough video game time for any day. There is just so much other stuff they can be doing!

I have learned that it is very important to give kids warning time before making them shut down their games. Either the kids have us parents fooled or most games were definitely not designed by mothers: there doesn’t seem to be a fast, easy, and instant way to save in many games. You have to get to a certain spot or a certain level before you can save. So do try to give your children time to save their game.

I may not get video games, but I know they are a part of my children’s lives. Part of good parenting is understanding this and being a bit flexible. Video games even have their positives, promoting eye-hand coordination and visual perception. Many also require kids to think and strategize. So set your limits and guidelines, and then let your kids play away!

Biography
Stacey Schifferdecker is the happy but harried mother of three school-aged children—two boys and a girl. She is also a freelance writer, a Children’s Minister, a PTA volunteer, and a Scout leader. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and French and a Master’s degree in English. She has written extensively about parenting and education as well as business, technology, travel, and hobbies.

 

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Comments on Parenting and Taming The Video Game Monster Leave a Comment

October 4, 2007

Bee @ 5:36 am #

As I sahd/childminder/ex-teacher who himself grew up with a geeky-pa, I thought I had a handle on this video game thingy. Until the then three year old introduced me to 'The Night Garden' on cBeebies. There was his face face floating around the screen via the web cam; I double checked and it was all done locally, but I had to reappraise my thoughts on games as an interconnected media.

There's been a shift in gaming; when I was a kid it was one computer, one child, grainy graphics, one darkened room, and possibly not too healthy though I don't seem too damaged. Now its up to 4 kids on a console, connected up to the world through shiny visuals, and sometimes on the laptop out in the sunshine.

I've taken the plunge and now play PG rated games alongside the boys, but then I'm lucky enough to be able to make such a time. We go on line and wander virtual worlds together when its raining, or the park when its not. It leaves me to wonder what they'll do when a shift from their own kids comes along.

October 8, 2007

K T Cat @ 10:06 am #

I've tried a variant of this, but I've got one I like better. I used to give my kids coupons for 30 minutes of video screen (TV or video games) every weekday and 60 minutes each weekend day that they could save up and spend any way they wanted. It worked well. We've gone through some traumas recently that have led me to relax this, but the effect was good while we did it.

If you predicate games on actions, then you're likely to get a surly and hasty job done so they can rush to the games. You're placing an obstacle between them and the games and the obstacle is going to be surmounted in the easiest and quickest way possible.

I totally agree with the homework before games, though.

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