6 Things I Wish I’d Know About Video Games When My Children Were Small
Author: Jo Robertson
Video games are a big area where concern and regret can creep in. Looking back on the journey my children have had with video games, there are things I wish I had known when they were small and the things I have learned along the way. Revisiting them here has been a good reminder to myself of how far we’ve come in our family, but also a reminder to keep hold of what we’ve learned.
1. Games are their playgroundEspecially in the last year I’ve realised how vital the social side of gaming is for my children. With months isolated away from their friends during lockdowns, video games like Roblox, Among Us and Fortnite have provided an ongoing social connection. When they first started playing online and talking to other people, I was wary. But with a bit of knowledge from our side on choosing the right games and settings and education for them about online stranger danger, they have very happy healthy video game social lives.
When children are little they love it if you can find them games that have this playground feel to them. The lists of Toy Box games and Online Playground games are a good place to start.
Of course, with the fun of the playground comes the misunderstanding, disagreements and scraped knees. But with this perspective on games, you can be there with them as they start, and be sure that they will come and tell you if something happens in these spaces that they find annoying, confusing or unsettling.
2. Games spark excitement and passionAs each of my three children are very different, they have each grown to love very different types of gaming. Our family is a good example of the diversity of games that can be enjoyed. I love hearing the exuberant interactions coming from wherever they are playing in the house.
Sometimes their enjoyment of games is just for fun or to laugh with friends. But they have each found “their” games that have grown more into a hobby. My son loves Rocket League and treats it like a real sport with practice, drills and competitions. My other son enjoys Minecraft and the social status that comes from his expertise. My adult daughter has clicked with The Last of Us that has fed into her emerging artistic talent.
These are the games they return to, slowly get better at and enjoy practicing. They treat them a bit like I wish they’d treated learning an instrument. But still, even though they are just games and not guitar or piano, I can see that they enrich their lives in lots of different ways: competition, creativity and connection.
3. Limiting games is a short term solutionWhat has worked best in terms of a healthy balance for both kids and parents in our family is mutual understanding of the issues. Us parents laying down blanket rules on their game time has never really worked. Well, it worked for a while but was so much effort to maintain. They always ran over time and we always got frustrated and threatened to take the games away.
It’s harder for younger children to take responsibility themselves but it’s really worth starting those conversations with them as soon as you can. It’s really never too early to start! In order to do that though you have to step into their world a bit. You can't just march out from the kitchen and demand everyone stop immediately for dinner. I spent many frustrating years trying that approach. It’s not enjoyable for anyone.
Now I give them 5 or 10 mins to finish off that round when meal time is approaching. And they have learned to check how long until dinner if they are starting a game that has longer rounds. So, there’s a bit of understanding from both sides.
4. There are games we enjoy playing togetherWhen the children were younger we played video games together: Wii Sports, Just Dance, That’s You. It was a great way to enjoy family time that wasn’t just watching that Disney film for the hundredth time, where I would quietly sneak out and get on with something else.
Like every aspect of bringing up kids you think they will want to continue doing those things forever, but really it’s just a very small window of opportunity. I’m glad that we grabbed the chance to do those fun living room family games when we could, it’s much harder to do that now. They are like many teenagers and naturally shy away from family activities.
Because we played video games together when they were young, we still manage (sometimes against the odds) to gather them for family game time now they are older. What we have done with some success is to play through some of the bigger narrative games they enjoy. Like Uncharted The Lost Legacy that I wrote about recently. We took turns with the controller and adjusted the difficulty according to the player’s ability. There was much hilarity at me attempting to steer a jeep up a muddy slope but I also got some kudos from the kids when I managed it. It’s a great story with very evocative scenery which makes it a great playing and watching experience.
5. There are games I enjoy playing on my ownBeing part of a family means that what we enjoy rubs off on each other. I want my values and pastimes to influence their lives. This means that I need to let their hobbies and passions into my life too.
During lockdown we started doing a YouTube hour. We all shared a 10 minute YouTube video of something we found interesting. With 5 of us there were quite a variety of things we watched. This really changed my perspective of why my kids enjoy watching YouTube (and now TikTok).
The same goes for video games. My children’s gaming has gotten under my skin - in a good way. I was reluctant and not interested at first, but I’m glad I didn’t shut them out because now I have played some amazing games that I wouldn’t otherwise have found. Like discovering Bury Me my Love with my socially-conscious teenage daughter. It really brought home the reality of the plight of refugees fleeing syria.
As an adult new to gaming you don't have to try and enjoy the same games as your kids (although they will love it if you join in with what they are playing). It’s a better idea to find some games that you enjoy playing yourself. You don't even have to vie for time on the console, there are loads of great games you can play on your phone like Florence, and some are free like Patterned.
6. You’re not too old and it’s not too late
The last thing I’ve learned about video games is that it can seem like you’ve missed the boat. They are too complicated, too loud or too violent for you to catch up (or want to catch up). But actually, it’s not as hard as you imagine to find out how the games work and get involved in this part of children’s lives.
“Best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.” Even if your children are older and you don't feel that you are managing video games well in your house, it’s not too late to start to find some balance. In fact, that’s why we created the database in the first place, so you can find out about the video games your children enjoy and start getting involved and enjoy some for yourself.
It will often feel like you are getting left behind and that it is too late. But our hope is that the information here, and the stories we share, help you take action. One of the best ways I’ve enjoyed catching up with the kids gaming is listening to them play and asking them about it. They love telling me about their world, and I love how it’s less scary when I understand it.
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The information on this database is designed to support and complement the in-depth discussion and advice about video game "addiction", violence, spending and online safety in the Taming Gaming book. If you have any concerns or questions in these areas, email our editor who is quick to respond or can arrange for a one-to-one conversation.