Before I write this article, I want to give a disclaimer: I have never had a child who loves video games. I have four daughters, and none of them play games on any sort of electronic device. But I’ve heard a lot of parents talk about this problem, and I wanted to add a few thoughts to the discussion. It’s possible that having an objective point of view gives me a different perspective.
There are three basic parenting principles that you probably already know but maybe haven’t applied to the video game situation: listen when children talk, be into whatever they are into, and accept them for who they are.
- Listen to Your Child
If your child is excited to tell you about something, view that as a gift! There will be a time (ahem, teenage years) when you will long to hear more from your child. Whatever topic he wants to discuss, listen and try to give him your full attention. I know this is difficult when his speech is halting, he exhibits flight of ideas, and the story is really long. But listening to your child shows that you care about what he cares about. If your child believes this, he will continue to tell you things as he gets older. Listening now paves the way for good communication later.
I’m sure you’re familiar with this concept, but let’s apply it to video games. You may think that if you listen with enthusiasm to your child’s chatter about video games you will encourage his excitement. I have watched some moms ignore or attempt to shut down any discussion of video games or related activities they didn’t approve of (Pokémon cards, fidget spinners, etc.). These moms try to dampen the child’s interest in these things, hoping that he will find something else to do. But that rarely happens. The only message the child receives is that what he’s excited about is not worth your time and attention. The child feels a sense of disapproval and feels bad about his interests. Over time he will stop telling you about his activities and ideas, and your connection (and therefore your influence) will be weakened.
My advice is listen to your child talk about video games for as long as he wants to talk about them. Ask questions and act interested. Get to know the characters and the various aspects of the game. Be excited for your child’s video game accomplishments! Make your child feel valuable and loved by giving him your attention, even if you dislike his interest in the activity. This leads me to the next parenting principle:
- Be into Whatever Your Child Is into
If your child was involved in dance or the tuba or baking, you would probably learn all about that activity. You would attend rehearsals and performances with your child and spend time and money helping him prepare. It’s good parenting practice to be into whatever your child is into. If you are naturally interested in his activity, it is obviously much easier. If his hobby is something you enjoy, it can even seem better or more suitable to you than other pastimes. But part of parenting is embracing new pursuits that you’re unfamiliar with or even disinterested in.
If your child really likes video games, that’s what you need to be into also. This means sitting down by him, learning about the different games and gaming systems and which ones he prefers. As already mentioned, listen and be interested in what he has to say about the games. Maybe play a few rounds with him so you can really understand how it works.
When my girls were young, they always wanted me to play Barbies or Polly Pockets with them. This was not my first choice of activity. I felt I never “had time” to actually sit and play, so I decided to build it into my schedule. I assigned an hour a week (for example, Thursdays at 10 am) to play with my daughter, whatever activity or game she chose. If moms played an hour a week of video games, it could be a great bonding activity. Doesn’t it sound more fun to be excited about what your child is telling you? If you’ve played the game with him, you will have some knowledge of it and his descriptions will make more sense to you. Be into what your child is into.
- Accept Your Child for Who He Is
The first two concepts naturally culminate into this last one. The longer I parent the more I believe that one of the keys to raising successful children is accepting them for who they are. We want our children to like the same activities we like, have the same values we have, and behave in a similar way to us. When they do, they seem familiar and somehow “right” to us. But as we know, children come with their own DNA. They have their own likes and dislikes and personality quirks. Sometimes we’re not even sure they came from us!
One way our children may be different from us is their love of video games. Most adult women aren’t fond of video games and have a hard time understanding the attraction. They seem annoying or like a waste of time to us, but there must be something fun about video games or our children wouldn’t love them so much! Here are some possible enticements: feeling good at something/mastering new skills; winning—the brain receives similar endorphins which create positive feelings whether you won a marathon or aced a math test or leveled up on a video game; belonging—there is a comradery among teammates, especially when they need you to do a certain part of the game.
These aspects of the game don’t appeal to moms, and we might be embarrassed by our children’s interest in video games. But no matter how much we’d like our children to not play video games and enjoy some other pastime instead, wishing that were true is not going to make it true. If they like video games, no amount of disapproval from you will change that. The more disapproval you show (whether outwardly or inwardly), the farther away you are driving your child. Your child wants your approval and love and can feel when you are withholding it. The joys of playing the game may outweigh their desire for your approval in the short run, but as that parent-child bond gets chipped away the relationship starts to sour.
Instead of imagining a child that you don’t have, celebrate the child you do have. Get to know him, enjoy what he enjoys, talk to him frequently about his video games and any other topic. Find lots of ways to approve of him. When we don’t allow children to be enthusiastic about something they love, they sense our disapproval and feel bad about themselves.
There are many things our children do that aren’t necessarily right or wrong but just different. It’s important that we let our children be different from us and still give them our approval. When we accept our children for who they are, they feel a sense of belonging in our family unit. There’s less tension and more love and positive feelings in the home, which is beneficial to all members of the family.