How (not) to talk to kids about video games

The family that games together, stays together. Photo by Flickr user sean dreilinger.

A couple of articles have come over the proverbial wire this week, offering advice to parents whose kids play video games. The pieces couldn’t be more different.

In the Vancouver Observer, teacher Howard Eaton uses an Angry-Birds-obsessed youth as a jumping-off point for a neutral-to-negative treatise on kids and video games. He reminds a pair of worried parents about the dopamine effects of video gaming, then meanders into the concept of whether doing “too much of something” (can that be measured objectively?) can indicate addiction.

I know that I often ask myself if my children’s video gaming activity is useful or productive. I find myself saying, “Isn’t there something else you could be doing?” You see, I don’t have any interest in video gaming. None. No interest. I can’t understand how it could be at all interesting. I then expand my remarkable reasoning by saying to myself, “What a waste of time.” I put my own need for valuing your time with productive activities onto my children and then judge for them what is a productive use of time. Simple. I know best, right?

Of course, if you don’t understand someone’s interest in something, then any amount of time spent with it can seem like “too much.” And no, Eaton doesn’t “know best,” as he next refers to that murky neuroscience study that showed that playing video games changed gamers’ brains — temporarily — without acknowledging that just about anything we learn to do will change our brains, because that’s how brains work.

He does acknowledge that video games can serve as stress relief for troubled teen minds — but then suggests that “soccer, swimming, gymnastics, and photography” might be preferable. Remember, this is a guy who doesn’t understand the appeal of video games. Of course he’s going to recommend something else.

He does linger for a moment on studies that show the benefits of video games, but then veers straight back into the question of violent video games and teens. Then, he does another promising thing: asks his own teen what he thinks. And his son gives some smart, if cautious, advice:

“Video games and children has been a somewhat controversial subject for some time now. Parents no doubt frequently ask themselves “should my child be playing this game?” As far as I’m concerned it all depends on the maturity level of the individual child. Does he/she understand the difference between the game and reality, and does he/she have a strong moral compass?

Meanwhile, over at, E.D. Cain talks about how to talk to kids about video games when you’re a hardcore gamer yourself. His kids are too young yet to be gamers, but the question is weighing on his mind. He expresses his conflict in a tongue-in-cheek way:

By the time my kids are old enough to play with me we’ll be on Modern Warfare 8 and Killzone 6 and the violence will all be much more lush and realistic because we’ll be playing on next-gen consoles with Avatar-like graphics.

In the meantime, I’ll have to think about how to talk to them about the things they see not just in games but in movies and elsewhere. As John notes in his piece, they’re going to see this stuff whether or not we let them. The important thing is that you’re able to talk to them about it.

I agree, that is the important thing. I wonder, if you don’t spend time with your kids’ games, if you instead look down your nose at them and wonder why games are so interesting, how you can honestly have that conversation.


4 responses to “How (not) to talk to kids about video games

  1. Hi Beth – sorry to hear that the perception you have of me is one who looks down at my kids and video gamers. This is certainly not the case. I support their engagement and joy in playing.
    All the best,

    • Hi Howard, thanks for stopping by! I do think you did some good things in your piece, but I think a parent would find the overall message confusing and a bit negative. Hopefully your one-on-one interactions with parents are more encouraging — I think that’s where it counts most, anyway!

  2. Thanks Beth. Appreciate your feedback. One has to calm the worries of parents with humor to often to make them realize that concerns are often not concerns. Take care, Howard

  3. Oh, forgot to mention. My sons gaming friends liked the article because it encouraged parents to be more understanding. I think words can be interpreted in so many ways based on ones perspective going in. Take care, Howard

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