How to Parent Kids Who Love to Game
I met with a boy of 13 years the other day. He was sweet and smart, but sad and sullen. He told me about his love for gaming and his struggles with the pursuit of screentime. “They [my parents] never let me play and when I do they just hate it.”
I looked at this boys school work and his weekly schedule. Everything he was doing was for someone else. Not one activity spoke to him or made him excited. The soccer team was awful, the art class was painful. His English and history courses were ‘total drags’. This child spent about 95 if not 99% of his time engaging in work and activity which did not tap into his passions or strengths. Furthermore, he struggled to connect with kids and make friendships. The kids he spent time with loved to make soccer goals and As on papers. He loved to code and level up and problem solve. The struggle was real.
I met with his parents after our meeting and asked them if we could consider their son’s gifts and interests into his educational plans. They were not exactly thrilled with what I had in mind, but I went on to explain — Let’s get this kid involved in a healthy way with his gaming and screentime. He loves to strategize, talk with friends on gaming, and to fantasize. Can we get him to spend time doing what he is good at and help him to use those skills and experiences to build his skills and to improve what is challenging for him?
In other words, let’s tap into that interest, that passion and use it to unlock this kid’s potential.
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I believe that video games have the potential to allow some children to build skills and healthy social, emotional and physical development, but only if constructed in a way which suits the child and family as well as the goals we have for the student.
Here is an exercise I have done with students and families which may help yours:
- Do some discovery work. How much screen time is your family engaging in? This means parents too. What are you doing? Look at your battery on your devices and you can see what you are spending time doing. Catalog time for a week or two. Learn what is really going on.
- Ask your child — what do you want to do with the gaming? Could we construct some goals which would be productive in nature — for instance, learning skills to code a game, writing stories to create about games, writing tutorials for kids to learn how to conquer more advanced games, writing an improved version of an existing game, learning about game developers and their lives and education…the list goes on! The important thing is to give your child time to communicate what fascinates them.
- Then, share the guidelines that the professionals have created about screen time and educate yourselves about them and why they exist. If your child is on screens, then they deserve to learn about the recommendations and the possible pitfalls one can get into if they invest more time on screens. Understanding the signs of addiction and having a balanced, healthy lifestyle is crucial to ALL children. I have also worked with plenty of children who spend WAY too much time studying and doing homework and not enough time exercising, or vice versa. Balance is important in all contexts.
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4. Stop SHAMING kids and parents for screentime use. The world is on screens. Adults are just as likely to spend weekend time on social media and on work-related tasks which require computers — and one would argue that these activities do the same things for adults as they do games for children. We get to connect, play, create, organize ideas…Thus, the idea is to teach and parent our children to use games as a way to help them to become productive adults using screens when they are older.
I’ve created a list of GOLDEN RULES for Parents to Use when parenting a kid who loves video games — I hope they help you to better and more healthfully support your child:
- Know how everyone in your family is spending time on screens. Have an open dialogue about what you are doing and be honest about the time spent on screens.
- Develop an education about screen time guidelines and rules for your family.
- Ensure that the family is spending time together off screens and that there is a balance of activity for the whole family. If you are ONLY spending time on screens then that is not healthy — if you are ONLY running off to sports programs all weekend, that is not healthy. Having a balance of activity is important.
- Ensure that the child understands how to healthfully use gaming time — if they are “checking out of life” or “avoiding” or “becoming irritable or angry” or not using the gaming for any kind of personal development, then it is okay to take the gaming away. Gaming can also be used as an incentive for working on school work or exercise. Consistency and real accountability are essential. I can’t stress this enough — parents need to be in control of the screen time. If a child can’t manage the consequences of not having their devices or gaming, then the parents need support to gain more skills to parent the screentime for their children.
- Beware of using screentime as a babysitter. Most parents will hand over a phone or device to help a child travel or during a long snow day. It is important to balance these moments with personal engagement with your child.
- And finally, use your child’s interests and pursuits as areas to explore with your child — tap into strengths. Create a game, play a game together, build a computer, have friends over and let them play something together. Be mindful of your limits and what rules you have — children don’t need to play games where they kill or harm others, for instance. So, be mindful that parents are in charge and have a job to parent the technology.
Here are some great resources to being your education — happy gaming and happy celebrating your child’s strengths!