Technology makes promises to parents that it can’t keep. We unbox pristine, special-plastic-smelling gaming tech. The photoshopped ads exude excitement about the worlds we can visit, friends we can make, creativity we can spark and achievements we can collect.
But, reality soon sets in. Subscriptions, additional controllers and must-have games mount up the unforeseen costs. Arguments erupt between siblings over who’s turn it is. Fears nag in the back of our minds over age ratings or the impact of too much screen-time. Worst of all, we paid through the nose to do this to ourselves.
For onlookers, it’s tempting to simply demand parents do their job: Read the box. Say no. Parent their children like in other areas of life. It’s really not that complicated, we tell them (and the Internet).
However, for newcomers it actually is that complicated. Or it can appear to be. I don’t blame parents for slowly backing out the room and letting the kids figure it out on their own. But I don’t want this to be the end of the story, either.
Over the past 10 years or so I’ve seen my children grow up (now 10, 12 and 14) and have helped countless other families turn gaming from a stress and a worry into something healthy, engaging and enjoyable. Here are the four pieces of advice I keep coming back to:
1. Don’t Exclude Yourself
Games are new, complicated and intimidating. It’s easy to think they are not for us. We don’t have the time, reflexes or history and besides, we don’t like shooting things. These are all good excuses, but they are excuses.
If (in a parallel universe) parents didn’t read and their children suddenly started spending hours with violent or dark novels, the advice would be simple. Start reading, find some amazing books and get them reading those instead. Read some books together. Games are no different, and it’s essential that parents don’t exclude themselves (and their parenting) from this crucial area of their children’s lives.
2. Find a Guide
When we want to learn to cook, take up a new sport or instrument we gravitate toward experts in these fields. We’ll invest in cook books, exercise classes or find music teachers.
Games are something we need to learn. Like these other areas of life, it’s much easier and more efficient to do this by finding someone to guide us. By committing to following someone who’s already made the mistakes we might make we can save time and gain confidence.
Whether your guide is a family member, friend or online expert, commit regular time to listening to their advice and then try it out in your own family. How to play. What to play. Pitfalls and dangers. Opportunities and benefits.
3. Get Informed
Ask your child about Minecraft, Roblox, Pokemon, or other games and you will soon be buried in detail. It can seem like it would take years of study to have a voice in this area of life.
However, that’s not the case. With access to the right information any parent can become expert enough in half an hour. The challenge is finding the right information in an easy to understand and succinct form.
You will find your own go-to sources, but for me there are some really helpful starting points.
- Video-game rating bodies, ESRB in the US and PEGI in the UK, offer super succinct and detailed information about game content.
- Printed newspapers have limited column inches so reviews have to keep the word count down and consider an audience that doesn’t understand a lot of jargon.
- YouTube gaming videos are useful to jump in and see how the game plays in motion.
4. Don’t Fake It
Your journey into the world of your children’s gaming has to be more than Cliff Notes. The only way to guide your children through this new media is to have developed your own relationship with it.
Your guide should be able to suggest games you haven’t heard of that might interest you. It may take a few attempts but before long you’ll find a developing connection to the experiences you are having with these games.
This authentic understanding of what games do to people, as well as what they are, will mean you can properly hear and understand what your children are saying about their games as well as offer advice and suggestions from your genuine experiences with games.
Four simple steps to get from gaming stress to interactive edification. Of course it’s not all plain sailing, but you can get there. As with any part of family life, the biggest challenge in making this change is the time it takes.
With this in mind I’ve done the leg work for you with weekly (3 minute) advice videos on the dangers, benefits and opportunities of gaming in the family. Then, once a month I pick an unusual game that we play for a week before discussing it in our virtual gaming “book club”. If you’d like me to be your guide for a while you can sign up to these for $1/month on my Patreon project.