According to a Common Sense Media survey of kids aged 0 to 8 years old, children under eight spend an average of 25 minutes per day playing video games. This hyper prevalence of virtual gaming at even the earliest ages gives parents an obvious cause for concern.
Renowned family psychologist, Dr. Frank Gaskill PhD, is a leading pioneer in using online games to connect with kids and teens and is also one of the most active family psychologists on social media in the country. He insists that gaming gets a bad rap! With boundaries, planning, and moderation, you and your kids can use gaming for good.
Here are some tips from Dr. Gaskill
1. Self-discipline and frustration tolerance
Gaming, as with any activity, can be frustrating when you first play or when you play new and difficult games. The trick is to learn to “struggle well.” When the game gets frustrating or problematic, teach kids to step away, seek help, and calm themselves to think better about the game. This is true for all of life’s struggles. Whether in sport, work, or even relationships, learning to step away and breathe can be an awesome skill. Take a breath and re-approach and you are far more likely to succeed.
Action step: Limit gaming to weekends and allow your kid to pick one day during the week. Set semi-flexible gaming time – an hour a day on weekends and a half hour or an hour on a weekday. Feel free to reward with more or restrict if needed.
2. Connection and quality time
Gaming can be a way to connect. Have you ever cooperated with your 6 year old on Lego Star Wars? It’s amazing when a youngster can help you solve problems in the game. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride in showing us older folks how to succeed. Plus, you get to spend time with your child and when they are playing, they are more likely to talk to you and tell you’re about their lives. They feel you are invested in them and in their world. Let them direct sometimes and you’ll be surprised what they share. Game and connect!
Action step: Play a game with your child for 30 minutes a week. Make it your play date. Go with them online to research new games and watch trailers about games you played when you were a child. Teach them about Atari!
3. Strategy and problem-solving
Gaming is not always simple or passive in the least. You need to cooperate, think ahead, and plan. Strategy needs to be taught. Cooperative game play such as the Lego series or even team strategy on the Halo series can translate into real life. Older games like the SIMS as well as several iPad games teach kids how to budget their money or points to save up for bigger items.
Action Step: Talk about a child’s goals with them (buying a new toy, saving up for a trip, etc.) and translate this into some of their favorite game conversations. Should they buy that little item in Lego Star Wars? Or, should they wait and buy something bigger later? Challenge them in their games to delay gratification and go for the bigger items sometimes. When they achieve their goals, praise them!
4. Stress Relief and imagination
We all love a good book. Do you know that the most cutting edge story telling is now through the world of video games? Learn about Mario’s trials, the Master Chief’s efforts to save the world, and a never-ending tale of first round drafts through the Madden NFL series. Blow off some steam and enjoy a good story where you are the hero!
Action Steps: Read the books that inspired games. For older kids, have them read about Halo rather than just play it. Before they play the Hobbit video games, have them read the series’ first. Games become even richer.
5. Parenting Tool
Gaming can be fun, informative, and exciting. What other parenting tool gives you all of this?! You can use games to reinforce good choices, as a way of connecting with your kids and also as a way of educating them. Tykoon.com is a tool I use to teach the value of money and how money works with my clients as well as with my own kids. Tykoon.com informs families and kids about how to earn, save, give, and spend. Their chore charts act to manage family workflow and emphasize accountability.
Action Steps: Give Tykoon.com a try, and watch as your kids work for real life and virtual rewards. For good choices and responsibility, feel free to throw in some extra game time. Quality time and connection makes it easier to get that little guy or girl to actually want to help you out at home.