Monday, January 20, 2014

A Note to Young Parents About Video Games

This is a post for young parents who have yet to decide whether video games/gaming will be a part of their home and children's lives.  For some, the idea of it being a choice at all may be surprising because, just like TV, it's become something that is assumed and the fact that it can be decided upon is often forgotten.

We don't have any gaming systems (hand held or otherwise).  This was and is a deliberate choice on our part. While I am not attempting to tell you what to do, I did want to put out there some honest thoughts about the pros and cons we've encountered because of our decision.

This is one of those decisions that makes you unpopular as a parent some of the time.  While it occasionally stings, we often remind ourselves that it can also be an indication that we're doing our job.  Almost all of our friends' families have video games and it is sometimes hard to explain why we've chosen otherwise.  Those families are dear to us and those parents are excellent ones.  There is no finding fault- and that is made very clear to our kids.  Instead, we talk about how each parent or set of parents are responsible for making the choices that they think are best.  We already do some things that are pretty different from other families we know, so our kids have heard this talk many times.  Sometimes, they finish our sentences for us, roll their eyes a bit and accept it.  They don't have to like it or always understand it.

While homeschooling does prevent them from hearing the latest discussion about the newest and best games and systems on a daily basis, our kids do spend time with kids who have video games.  If our kids are at someone else's house and they want to play video games, we have two rules.  The first is that they are not to play violent games (no shooting and killing people) and, two, that it shouldn't comprise their entire time together. This is a rule between us and our kids.  We don't put the responsibility to uphold it on their friends' parents.  It's up to our kids to stick to these guidelines with their friends and we've told them they can always use us as an excuse if they're feeling otherwise saying, "My parents don't want me playing this kind of game," instead of, "I don't want to play this."  We know they don't and won't always obey us so we do check in with them and ask.  We don't punish if they haven't stuck to the rules, but we do give a little mini-lecture on the reasons for the rules and encourage them to follow them next time.  This keeps the lines of communication open instead of encouraging lying for fear of a consequence. 

A reality is that our kids sometimes feel left out.  They don't know what their friends are talking about when gaming conversations arise. They might not know how to play a certain game or even if they do, they likely won't be nearly as good at it as the other kids.  This leads to other kids sometimes not wanting to play with them or have them on their "team".  This is tough but helping them focus on all the things they do know how to do that will serve them well in life sometimes helps.  Sometimes it doesn't and it's just hard.  We encourage our kids to ask their friends if they would like to play/do something else- sometimes this works and other times it doesn't. 

So, what do our kids do? They do other things.  They play with each other- board games, pretend, outside. They play by themselves- reading, swinging, drawing, riding bikes, playing with the animals, drawing, sewing, etc..  They do chores.  They do school.  They do get some screen time watching carefully chosen movies and shows (we deliberately don't have TV reception or cable) but these shows/movies have a clear ending point- we find that doling out screen time is easy this way.

Being different can be hard but it also can give kids courage to be their own person.  One day, they might have a different idea than those around them.  We want them to have the courage to follow their own values and convictions.  Right now they're following ours, but it's still practice.

There are families that are able to make video games work- screen time limits are set and adhered to. Games are researched and approved or denied.  Time is balanced.  It can be done and I'm sure some of you reading this are those parents.  I applaud your skills and energy!

In spite of this, Jamey and I have never heard another parent talk about video games in a positive light. Usually we hear parents express frustration with the choices of games their kids want to buy or play. We hear frustrations about getting their kids to adhere to their screen time limits.  We also hear concerns that gaming is taking the place of actual interactions and relationships between kids and their friends and kids and the rest of the family.

We do not regret our decision.  It's been years since our kids have asked to have video games.  The asking stops.  The understanding begins.  There are endless opportunities for discussion.  And it still stings sometimes.

But, as the parent, the choice is always yours.  Don't believe otherwise.
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  1. Thanks for sharing this post. We need to persevere in bringing up our children the best way (God's way) despite all odds. It's sometimes difficult for us parents, we sometimes wonder whether we are doing the right thing because not many practice the same. My two girls are bigger now and we can see the foundation/principles we invested in them from when young is starting to pay off: They've earned better judgment/character, makes better decision, doesn't get attracted to unattractive things and they are very confident of who they are in God's eyes. Must continue to pray for our children and keep running the race:)

  2. Your posts are always a blessing to read. We have the same thoughts on TV and video games. Our kids used to be dissappointed as well and now that has changed. We just keep on encouraging them to enjoy living. You only get one chance! They now are dissappointed when the other kids don't play or converse with them or others at gatherings. They see how much of life the other kids are missing out on. Do my kids play wii at friends houses? Yes, but at the rate of once or twice a year. Not enough to wink at. I do allow a little time at the library on their computers every other week. It's a treat and not a lifestyle. :)

  3. We also made the no gaming systems decision early in our parenting years. Our three children were definitely in the minority among their peers, but we also explained to them that it's ok to be different, Now that they are young adults they look back and see that "different" can be good. We chose to spend more money (than their peer's families) on traveling and doing things as a family. NOT necessarily good or bad, just different. And different is ok.

  4. I cannot tell you how much I regret letting my son get "into" games years ago. He seems to be getting his act together now, but still has a daily struggle avoiding spending ALL of his spare time playing video games. He is nearly 20 and has successfully trained to be a Medic in the US Army Reserves, but the siren call of those games still challenges him and, in my opinion, takes away far too much of his energy. He loves playing them, talking about them and they color all of his real world experiences in a way that shifts things into someone else's control. It's a little like when you stare at one color for a while and then look around and all of the normal colors aren't quite right any more? By spending all this time in worlds created by other people, they've put lenses onto him that he doesn't even notice most of the time.

  5. We've learned the hard way with my step-children that it's so much harder to take away these things once they've become a problem. First we had to take away the smart phone at night. Then take away texting and then the smart phone all together. Hippy-me was horrified that a thirteen year old had a smart phone in the first place, but we learned that even good kids will make very, very big mistakes when given too many freedoms. Things will be much different with our five year old, whose home environment we have control over.

    After two years of working in a middle school, I could spot a video game addicted kid from a mile away. There's a right way to have them in your home, and the very wrong way of not setting time limits, having the games in the child's bedroom, and not monitoring the content of the game. Also, there can be some creepy social interaction on some online games.

  6. I love your message here! Although I don't have children myself, I have a young niece and am anticipating her wanting to play certain games. I agree that there are many games out there that are just not appropriate for children. I very much appreciate your way of conveying that everyone has their own choice. Thank you for sharing! :)

  7. We have a Wii system and enjoy it as a family. Bowling, archery, driving games... Especially during the winter months. And I love Wii fit. Our approach to the Wii is the same as the internet, requires parental supervision and participation.

  8. Great food for thought - thank you. We haven't felt the need to make a decision yet, but I can see it on the horizon. I am very anti-screen, but my husband is not. So we need to find the benefit of our partnership in the middle.

  9. I agree completely. It seems that nowadays parents just go with the flow, and do what everyone else is doing. I don't understand it. On Facebook lately, friends were talking about apps for their three-year-olds. I am critical of that, yet I also don't want to be judgmental.

  10. We have always been a "no t.v". family, but now both my kids have IPads. My 9 year old has autism and is non verbal, he uses a speech generating app to communicate at home and school. It has been an invaluable tool! We decided to also give our 11 year old (typically developing) son an IPad as well. While it would be easier to not have to deal with electronics at all, we feel that working with him to set limits on both the amount of time he spends on the device, and what type of games he plays is good practice for the future. Our hope is that these endless discussions on responsible "screen time" will have a positive impact on his use of electronics and social media when he is older.

  11. We are also a video gaming system-free family. We do have an iPad that we use for Facetime so our son can talk with far away relatives. We do have a few math games and a spelling game that he may play, but we limit his time to 10 minutes/day, and if he is struggling with wanting MORE, then we often tell him he must take a break for a few days. Our son is Autistic, and has OCD issues, and we have found that allowing him video game time, even in the smallest increments is just too overwhelming for him. Like you, we have had many talks about why that is our family choice, and what he can say to friends while he is visiting their homes. I think each family needs to choose what is right for their family. Great words of wisdom in your post!

  12. I would not allow any electronic game in our home when our sons were growing up. And we did not have television to watch. As they got older, I realized they were playing the games at their friends houses, and watching television programs that I wouldn't approve of. Fortunately, none of them ever got addicted to any of the games. They had a lot of good play time in the woods and fields and streams around our home. And at 11 and 12 years old they started working for a couple of neighbor farmers picking rocks in the spring and helping with hay.Boys have a lot of testosterone and they need physical activity. Testosterone-fueled gaming is counterproductive. I commend you for taking a principled stand in your family.

    That said, my sons are now 19 to 25 and they have phones that get internet and they are addicted to those. And my oldest son has a big screen television with cable. Very discouraging.

  13. I so appreciate this, Jane. For us, it's not video gaming, but handheld internet devices. My 14-year-old is the only one of his friends who doesn't have one (I think), and it's lonely for him.

  14. Message to Jane: YOU GO GIRL.

  15. Thank you, Jane. We've made the same media choices in our family and do not regret it. I wonder if it will be a struggle as our preschool/baby boys get older, but so far the school-age girls have accepted it without struggle. I'm thankful for families like yours to encourage us along the way.

  16. I think it takes a very strong parent to say NO to video games. We were the parents that set BIG LIMITS on games, game time, etc. My kids played them, but eventually got bored. They don't play them now unless at a friend's house who plays them. And if the friend plays for too long, they'll leave from boredom. Seth would rather be playing music and Ian would rather be outside riding something or climbing around.

  17. Jane, I can't express how much I admire and applaud your decision regarding this particular topic. I, personally, do not believe there is enough good that comes from video games to warrant their existence. (How's that for being unbending?)

    Our daughter is now 42. When she was growing up, we did not have a TV. Video games and computers had not arrived on the scene yet. She experienced some of the very same things you describe regarding your kids and video games. Matter of fact, when she took the "readiness test" before entering school, the areas where she was weak (or simply bottomed out on) related to things I felt she would only know or have learned from exposure to TV! So, you see when trying to do our best in raising our children, it's always something. However, I do think you have a much harder time now than we did during the 70s and 80s. It's as if our society's technological skills have progressed way ahead of our desire to maintain values and morality.

    Heaps of praises upon you for being responsible parents.

  18. Working on the same thing in our home. We do not have a TV but use the computer for selected shows and movies. Even so my boys particularly become so easily addicted to their "show" time each day. Do you set aside a time for your kids to watch a show or movie?

    As a child I only watched TV on Fridays and Saturdays. My 14 year old just bought herself a tablet. She is very disciplined with it and mainly uses it for school purposes. I find my boys to be much more prone toward electronics. I really enjoyed your post on entering a new era with your son. I can see how my boys really need the many opportunities to work that our new homestead is going to provide!

    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts because even as adults I think it helps to hear when other parents are trying hard too!

    Judi :)

  19. Thank-you for such a well written post! We have taken the same approach and it works well for us.

  20. Thank you for a great post! I was just told that I was a mean mom because I won't let my 10 year old daughter talk on the phone on school days. Her only friends are in her classroom and she's with them all day. When she gets home it's my time with her.

  21. Another family that has made some rather unpopular choices in regards to video gaming. :-) I grew up watching my brother invest the bulk of his time in gaming. To this day, at age 33, he spends more time involved in virtual worlds than real ones. Having this as a background, I knew that I didn't want this element in my home. Thankfully, my husband agreed.

    Our oldest son is 13 and loves computers. He recently finished an html class, and is set to continue his programming education. Folks have argued that, because he has no access to the games his peers play, he will be behind the curve. I disagree- he is actually *ahead*. Instead of wasting hours of his life in front of a screen pursuing faux "goals" and "achievements," he has been busy living his life. Frankly, I'm not sure he'd have the time to take a programming class if he played the games that this programming creates! LOL

    I love your conclusion: this IS a parent's choice. Choosing to not choose--to be led by the crowd-- well, that's a choice, too.

  22. I'll be the lone dissenter on this topic. I have 3 kids in elementary school, and I let them play minecraft on their little tablets all the time. They adore it. They can connect to each other's virtual worlds, help each other build all sorts of things, and it's just wonderful fun. It is amazing to hear the 3 of them playing excitedly together and cooperating on an activity, instead of fighting (which occurs no matter how much you try to sanitize their environment).
    My boys test very high in math and logic and I have a feeling they may enjoy coding in the future - so I don't try to eleminate technology from their lives. I think anything can be an unhealthy addiction if you let it -- technology and gaming isn't a sin, it's just one of thousands of things we can get to preoccupied with. We still do soccer, guitar lessons, and they read lots of books, so what's the harm?
    So far I have no regrets. I know many people who were more into "gaming" than I ever was growing up, and they are perfectly functional adults (most of them are also excellent computer programmers)
    Every parent is free in these things, and each of my kids is free to choose their interests, within reason of course. :)

  23. I like that you wrote: "The asking stops. The understanding begins." And thought you might like to hear from someone who is pretty much finished with parenting young children (our 6 kids range from 13 - 27) - we also made the decision to not have gaming anythings in our house. When our youngest was ten we decided that a Wii could be fun since it can be played differently to other computer gaming systems so we bought one as a surprise - the kids were delighted and we have 3 or maybe 4 games - which are virtually never played. Over time they simply came to understand for themselves that there are better things to do and they would honestly rather do them.

    PS - Some of our very favourite recipes come from your site - thanks so much.

  24. I grew up in a home without the '80's! GASP!!! I think it was the best decision my parents ever made. People at school would ask if I was Jehovah's Witness(nope, Pentecostal :) and even people at church thought it was extreme. I have the best memories of childhood and television was never missed. I married a man who always had a television, so getting rid of it is not an option(he would have hockey withdrawals) but I would get rid of it in a heartbeat.

    You are wise indeed to not have gaming systems in your home.


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