Having grown up with seven older brothers, I have a healthy respect for how fun some video games can be, and I’m proud of myself for knowing the difference between a Super Nintendo and a Play Station. But saying that, there are very few video games I care to waste my time playing. Because that’s what I ultimately felt they were: a waste of time. Until I married a man who wanted video games to be a part of our family someday, I hadn’t given them a second thought. I, like many others, had heard all the talk about how kids shouldn’t play video games because it hinders their creativity, keeps them inside on beautiful days, promotes violence, etc. And while all of this is true in certain circumstances, I’m here to point something ELSE out about video games:
When used appropriately, video games can be a tool for bringing families together.
Playing the right games together gives families a chance to spend time together, have fun, laugh at your mistakes and congratulate each other’s wins. Just like children can learn from sports the valuable lesson of how to be a gracious winner or patient loser, kids can learn these things from appropriate video games as well. Fathers and sons can team up to win virtual soccer matches or save the world from aliens. Mothers can dance Zumba with their daughters using the Wii or Xbox Kinect (or kill aliens, if that’s your thing). When you limit and monitor which video games are brought into your home, the experience can be well worth it in the long run. So how do you find a balance between video games consuming your family’s time, and using it as a bonding experience?
1) Talk and make a plan: Before you even have kids old enough to play the games, discuss how much influence these games will have in your family. If your kids are already gaming age, reassess the games they already have or the ones they see your husband play. Talk about what you will allow to come into your home and how long you’ll let yourself or your kids play in one sitting, and then stick with that plan.
2) Don’t let yourself get sucked in: How many times have you, or someone you know, sat down to play a video game for a “little bit,” only to emerge 5 hours later without realizing that the sun had set? This is one reason playing video games gets a bad rap, and rightfully so. But it IS possible to limit yourself. Don’t let your husband or your kids (or yourself) get sucked into wasting the whole day by setting a timer you will have to stand up to turn off. When limited, video games can stimulate your mind and be quite fun!
3) Choose the right games: When my husband told me he’d like to buy an Xbox One with Kinect (a device that tracks your movements to allow you to play active games, such as Dance Central or Kinect Adventure), he had to explain what exactly his intentions were for it. We decided that most of the games we would buy would utilize the Kinect, meaning they would be active games that got our whole body moving instead of just our thumbs. As a result, we have a lot of really fun games that include dancing, stimulates outdoor activities like rock climbing or wake boarding, and are multiplayer.
We get to play these games together as a family and that has already begun building a bonding experience for us. We also decided that we wouldn’t get any games above a “Teen” rating for our children, and for us, no games that included nudity, vulgar language, or bloody violence. When our kids are teenagers, we will be aware of what games they want to buy or are playing with their friends (as best we can) and go from there. You can read more about video game ratings here.
4) Involve everyone: Even the little toddlers can get involved if you’re playing the right game. Wii Sports has bowling that responds pretty well to little hands, if you take the time to teach your toddler what to do. My 2 year old loves to mimic me as I do my Xbox Fitness workouts and she has learned little encouragements to keep me going strong, such as “Come ON, Mommy!” and “No more crying.” The right video games give your family a chance to spend time together playing and having fun!
5) Be willing to move on: If it’s just too tempting to justify buying a game that challenges the pre-set terms you’ve established (maybe it only swears a little or the blood doesn’t look too realistic), be willing to say no. If you’re finding the kids arguing too much about cheating or not taking turns, be willing to ground them from it, or more drastically, be willing to sell the console, if that is what needs to be done. The whole point is to use these virtual games to have fun and bond, so if that is not happening or the playing time is being abused, don’t be afraid to get rid of the game that’s causing problems or the actual gaming system altogether.
When I realized that gaming was a way my husband liked to spend his limited free time, at first I grumbled. I only saw it as a way for him to “check out” for hours at a time. But I didn’t realize that playing was his way of unwinding from a hard day, just like Netflix was my way to unwind. And he has shown me a much more positive side of video gaming. A side that is fun and wholesome that our little family has already enjoyed because of the boundaries we’ve set up. If you choose to allow video game consoles in your home, I hope following these few suggestions will help you enjoy your time together more as you play!