Video games, video games, video games…! Must they be the bane of every parent’s existence? For every fun story I hear about “I played MarioKart all afternoon with my son the other day. It was great…the games are so much better than when we were growing up,” there are about ten that are more like “all he wants to do is play video games, all the time! I have to drag him off to do his homework or even to eat!” But are video games all bad? In a previous post, I addressed some of the therapeutic value of video games. But if you have a child who loves video games, how do you, as a parents, go about helping your child actually benefit from their video game obsession, as opposed to making it a thorn in everyone’s side and a flash point of conflict?
This post from Dorkly does a great job of succinctly boiling down some of the exact positive themes I have noticed in video games. For purposes of this blog post, I would like to focus on two of these maxims, “take pride in your work even if it’s not the prettiest” and “focus on what you’re good at” and suggest a way that parents might maximize results with these catchphrases. Though the goal and outcome may be different depending on the current status of video games in your household.
However, before you can really engage your child about video games, a dialing down or de-escalation of the conflict may be in order.
The first question parents must ask themselves is how positive or negative the topic of video games is currently: if there’s no argument and everyone’s on the same page, these may be fairly easy strategies to implement. On the other hand, if video games have everyone ready to go nuclear, it’s important to take that into account.
So, yes, let’s be honest. Depending on how old and/or cynical your kids are, as a parent, you can’t just wake up one morning and pretend that you are suddenly in love with video games, especially if they have previously been a source of tension between you and your “mini-me.” As the slogans and their illustrations are easily downloaded and printed, I would suggest that you hang one or two on the refrigerator without mentioning or calling attention to them. If your child asks about them, of course that is an opening to begin talking. If not, just leave them for a week or so and wait for an opportunity to discuss. And watching for (or even creating) an opportunity may be key to the success for this strategy.
The two "lessons" that will be the focus of the rest of this post are available below.
For example, as a jumping off point for the Minecraft maxim (“take pride in your work…”), look for your child to say something positive about something they have created or completed. You might add “that reminds me of the Minecraft picture I put up on the fridge the other day.” At this point, the child will likely either acknowledge they have seen it or give you an opportunity to say it was “something I saw on the internet that reminded me of you.” This compliment will function in two ways: one, you are reinforcing your child’s perception that whatever they created has value and that both of you are aware of it; two, it is an opening to signal your openness towards a positive view of videogames and frame your compliment in a way that gets your child’s attention. This may be especially effective if video games are a current source of tension and may have the added benefit of signaling at least a slight reduction in the rhetoric that likely surrounds the subject. Oftentimes when something is a source of argument, especially between a parent and child, the discussion can easily turn into a game of one-upmanship that escalates the problem without taking one step towards a solution. This sort of one-upmanship is an easy pattern to fall into in any relationship and may itself become the source of problems.
I would also suggest that you look for a time to apply the reinforcement “focus on what you’re good at.” When we are looking for times to reinforce a positive behavior in our children, it is amazing how apparent they can come. Oftentimes, children will take a strength-based approach without even realizing it. “We had a group project today in science and I was in charge of putting the slide together because I’m good at the little details” or “when we played volleyball today in P.E. I took the setter position because I always notice who’s in position to do what.” As a parent, this might be an opening to say “yeah, that reminds of the saying I put on the fridge the other day,” hopefully with some of the same results outlined above.
Whatever the result, the goal of this outcome is to praise your children on an important life skill, but in a way that shows you are paying attention to what is important to them. It’s very easy as parents to constantly nag, criticize or give advice, but much more challenging to simply reinforce something a child might already be doing well, but not being praised for. Working this recognition of skills into conversation may pay considerable benefits in your child’s functioning and behavior.
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture