Gaming with Kids

Note: This is an old post from the soon-to-be-defunct Slow Gamers. That site is closing, so I’m moving over my Opinion posts from that site to here.


I still remember being sick in grade school and playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in the cold extra room we had on our first floor. It was hooked up to the junky old television we had but I loved it. Over the two days I was sick and the weekend after I beat the game and it still, to this day, is one of my favorite games of all time.

I also remember the original Game Boy that we had and the hours upon hours that I spent “catching them all” in the original Pokemon games. Hours. The game was so simple and yet, just below the surface, you could see the endless well of gameplay decisions that a single boy could make.

My first “online” game was Starcraft on our old Windows 98 SE computer. I would play against people I had never seen and would never know, but we would work together to try to take down the seemingly endless runs of Zerg AI units as our bases were either defended or defeated after each wave.

My first computer was an Apple IIe that I picked up at an auction for $2. It had Oregon Trail, Number Munchers, and Lemonade Stand. I would stay up in my bedroom and play until the wee hours of the morning to try to beat my last score. Figure out the best way to make it to Oregon, or try to get to the next level in Number Munchers.

Now, much later in life, and with kids of my own, how am I going to handle video games in my own family? When I was younger it was easy because my parents had no concept of what I was doing. I was the person who bought the first computer (that Apple IIe), I went out and chose which video game systems we were going to have in the house, I was the one who read up on what was happening here and now and made those decisions.

My parents didn’t know.

However, now I’m a parent who does. The Wii U was chosen by me. Nintendo Land is mine. The iOS games are purchased by me and rationed by my wife and I. There are multiple computer, tablets, phones, consoles, and TVs in the house and on at any one time. Things are very different and the decision now is how do we manage everything.

Video games are like every other form of entertainment: optional. Watching TV is optional. Listening to different forms of music are optional. Reading a book is optional. Drawing is optional. Painting is optional. Running is optional.

You get the point.

So when you are deciding to introduce your kids to video games, I think you need to emphasize that it is something that is optional. Fun. Secondary (even tertiary or later). Unneeded. Enjoyable.

It is also something you will need to make decisions on.

Will you allow violence? How much? How often? Restrict games to a certain type? How often will you allow your kids to play? Will you play with them? Will you help them? Will you always beat them or try to carry them along a little bit?

It is just like EVERYTHING ELSE when it comes to parenting. Gaming isn’t different from watching TV or playing on computer or even playing outside. There are decisions you need to make about how things are going to be introduced and then it needs to be monitored and watched and updated and revisited.

However, both parents need to be on the same page. You can’t fight this battle on your own and if you are not both in agreement you are only going to be making things harder on not just the two of you, but on the child (or children) as well. Talk about it. Really take the time to talk things through and come to a mutual decision between the two of you as to what and how you are going to do things.

Here is my advice. Sit down and make a decision with your spouse as to how things are going to work. Then … play video games with your kids. Show them the ropes. Encourage them. Don’t “go easy” on them all the time because they need to build skills but maybe, just maybe, sprinkle in a “win” for them if they have shown some improvement.

Can’t hurt, right?

But be the parent. Tell them “no” when it is time to say so. Keep your word when you say that they can only play an hour. Be mindful of what games you are going to play in front of your kids. You don’t have to pick “kid games”, but be aware of what you are bringing in the house.

Make it fun! Make it a big deal! Make it something that you do together as a family and not something that they need to go and do in the basement of their friend’s house. I don’t know, I like to think it would have been cool if my dad had spent some time playing games with me.

Talk opening about what games you are playing, why you are playing them, and even why you are not playing other games. In the same breath, BE THE PARENT and also state that sometimes you are not playing a game because that game is NOT GOOD FOR THEM.

I’m not going to get into the whole “violence in video games” thing, but just be mindful. If the game is depicting things that you would not be comfortable letting your child watch on TV, then don’t play that game with them or with them in the room. There are plenty of hours in the day for you to play games without them around.

Put the gaming system in an open space where people can easily be around. Don’t hide it in a small area somewhere. If you want this to be something that is out in the open and that the family is comfortable with, make it something that is out in the open and available. It is easier to parent when you can see it.

Don’t allow the kids to have a video game console in their room. Make their bedroom something that is set aside for important things like sleeping. Keeping major distractions like video games, computers, and other stuff in their rooms isn’t going to help them get the sleep that their bodies need. That also makes it easier to keep the gaming console in the open where everyone can see and use it. Hiding it in someone’s bedroom only makes it harder.

Be a parent. Be involved. Be present and take the time to do research. Video games can be a very valuable family pastime if you take the time and effort to make it so.

I’m not going to pretend that I have all of the answers or that everything (or anything) that I’ve written will work for people. The most important thing is to be present, loving, and supportive parents whether there are video games in the house or not. Just because you have a gaming console doesn’t give you permission to outsource the parenting of your children to video game studios.