My daughter loves technology. At just under two years old, it is amazing how well she can navigate my iPad and iPhone. She can unlock the iPad and find her games within a matter of seconds. When my wife and I let her play with our iPhones, she knows how to find the videos we have taken of her. If we let her, she would watch them over and over and over again. Perhaps this is because technology breeds narcissism or because she has observed her mother and father obsessing over technology or maybe technology is, by its very nature, deeply immersive. Knowing that I am a videogame critic it has not been uncommon for people to comment on my daughter’s tech savy being a product of her genetics or upbringing, “she is going to be a gamer just like her daddy” they say. While I don’t want to pressure my daughter to adopt my chosen hobbies, I do hope she takes an interest in videogames.
Like other parents, my wife and I limit the amount of time our daughter spends with technology. We didn’t need to do too much research to recognize the necessity of such limits. One of the few times my daughter sits still is when we turn on Sesame Street. If we let her she wouldn’t play outside or socialize, she would sit in front of the television all day long.
Despite the effect technology can have on my daughter, I hope she will continue to play games as she gets older. There is a key difference between what my daughter is doing while she watches “Elmo” and what she is doing when she plays games on my iPad. When doing the former she is observing and receiving information on a screen, when doing the latter she is interacting with data and systems and making decisions. One of these is more passive than the other. Thus it should be no surprise to find that kids who play videogames scored 23% higher in creative tests conducted by Michigan State University involving tasks such as drawing pictures and writing stories. And videogames have even been shown to have physical benefits:
Gamers score faster reaction times, even in situations not involving video games, and have better hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. Even in preschoolers who play interactive video games, studies out of Deakin University showed better object control motor skills, such as kicking, catching and throwing a ball.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board reports that 64% of parents in the United States believe that videogames are a positive part of their children’s lives. Given that videogames can not only teach us new information but challenge us to more effectively process information, I honestly think that percentage should be higher. Videogames not only help children develop but they are also inherently educational. Every time we play games we must learn to observe our environment, test systems, and search for answers to problems.
Still, the real reason I hope that my daughter will play videogames is because it’s something I like to do myself. I recognize that this is selfish but who doesn’t like it when their children take up their hobbies?
It is quite possible that as my daughter matures she will have little interest in videogames. If and when that day comes, I hope I will be mature enough to set aside the controller and dive into whatever it is that she enjoys doing. But given the high percentage of young people who enjoy playing games, chances are she will have an interest in them. My goal will then be to find compelling games that we can play together: games that promote team work, make us think, provoke empathy for people outside our social experience, and that bring us together. When it comes to videogames, as with any form of media, we need to model discernment and self control for our children. But first and foremost we should model what it is to put the interests of others above our own. Taking an interest in the games our children play might be a good place to start.
A recent study by the Barna Group on the family and technology found that parents spend almost as much time with content-driven media on a daily basis as their teen/tween children. Much of this time is “Family and _____” time–family and TV or family and movies etc. The one area of content-driven media that parents and teens are unlikely to share is videogames. The parents surveyed reported to spend 49 minutes a day watching television with their children and only 8 minutes a day playing videogames with them.
While the benefits of playing games with our children are obvious (they teach us teamwork, decision making, and how to compete gracefully) playing videogames together isn’t something most parents prioritize in the home. Of the teens/tweens surveyed, 73% claimed to play videogames regularly compared to only 43% of the parents. Perhaps parents are not playing videogames with their children because they are doing what they want to do. Perhaps, like me, most parents are selfish.
The teen years are a stressful time of transition from childhood to adulthood. It is a time when teens begin to long for independence from their parents and it becomes more and more difficult for families to spend time together.
Jesus once said, “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends,” one of many references in the Bible to the concept of “dying to self.” The idea is to set aside our own agenda, to stop living for ourselves and instead live for the good of others. While it may be more romantic to apply such words to hypothetical situations in which we might be asked to die for our loved ones, it’s typically more practical to apply them to the way we spend our leisure time. “Dying to self” could take the form of something as small and as practical as setting aside some time to play videogames with your children.