Family relationships can be damaged by screen time. Evenings are spent nagging and yelling and often end up in a silent standoff where one side wins but nobody wins. It’s like a bad video game.
What are many parents honestly feeling about video games?
- I feel like I’m losing my connection with my child
- I feel like I’m losing control of my child
- I feel that other aspects of my child’s life, like school, are suffering
- I feel like our family life is suffering
- I’m worried about the long-term effects of gaming
If we’re really honest, we might also add:
- Screens are a great way of occupying my child while I get other things done
- I don’t understand the attraction of video games myself
- I like Candy Crush, Pinterest and Facebook
These feelings are all valid and the concerns are real, but they can end up clouding our vision about what needs to be done.
Video games are here to stay. They are a feast of what the male brain loves – looking and moving through space (visual-spatial skill). We need to decide what our relationship with technology is going to be, and we need to help our kids do the same. Screens are not evil. They just require a conscious response.
What’s the problem?
- letting emotion rule over logic
- shared parenting
What’s the solution?
1. Adopt a logical approach. No nagging, shaming or yelling. Too much of anything isn’t good for you. Nobody would argue with that. Balance your technology diet the same way you would balance your food diet. Experts recommend a maximum of one hour at a sitting for intense interactive screen time and a maximum of two one-hour sessions for every 5 hours of free time. If your kids are doing less, that’s even better.
2. Communication must be open and democratic. Have a family meeting where you discuss the issues when everyone is feeling good. (See fact sheet below). Come up with rules and consequences that everyone buys into and post them on the fridge door. Have an evening schedule and post it on the fridge door – a central communal location where there are no power struggles – just the agreed facts for all to see.
3. Why does this seem to be a particular issue for mothers? “It’s my Mom who’s always going on about it. My Dad doesn’t care.” Dad needs to be on board. Boys need positive male role modelling around the issue of self-regulation. It’s not fair to make Mom the policeman who ends up having all the arguments. Kids need firm, fair, consistent boundaries – from both parents.
4. Most of the arguments around video games revolve around coming off. This is called transitioning, and males find it harder to do than females. Boys hyperfocus. They need lots of warnings and transition time. The plane is flying high and fast, and it needs a long runway to land and come to a stop. If the plane just won’t come to a stop, then turn off the WiFi. (See the article below on hyperfocusing).
5. If not video games, then what? What is your family’s lifestyle going to be? We can normalize certain activities like going outside. What is your family’s normal? If parents don’t decide, Microsoft, Sony and Apple Corporation will decide for you. When they do come off the video game be ready for the boredom cry! You can fill the vacuum yourself, or you can challenge your kids to fill the vacuum themselves. Remember, that vacuum use to be called life.
Stick to the Facts
Here are some facts you can use at your family meeting. There are 7 for each side of the argument. Let’s be fair – video games are not evil. Show respect for your child’s interests, and remember to have a sense of humour!
7 Good Things About Video Games
- Gaming is a valid social activity
- Video games are stories. More people use video games than books, movies and television combined. The stories may be formulaic, but so are most movies and TV shows.
- Video games relieve stress
- Video games provide an emotional outlet
- They exercise the visual-spatial regions of the brain
- They can contain excellent graphic art
- Educators are increasingly using games and “game theory” in education
7 Bad Things About Video Games
- They shorten attention spans for non-visual stimuli
- They do not exercise language development (speaking, reading and writing)
- They take away from opportunities for movement and exercise
- They take away from opportunities to experience nature
- They can take up large blocks of time
- They take away from family time
- They can be addictive
Here is a sample schedule created for a 12-year-old boy who was playing about 4 hours each night. He has karate on Monday and piano on Wednesday. The schedule was agreed on by everyone. Feel free to copy and edit this document for your own use.
The Future of Gaming
In 2016 gaming will take a huge leap forward with several major corporations launching full immersion virtual reality games for the mass market. For a preview, look at these two sites.
Here is an interesting article on the connection between hyperfocusing, ADD and gaming.
For more parenting strategies around the gaming issue, read:
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