Ah, gaming – a time honored past time of our youth that’s plagued parents for millennia. Yes, for thousands of years parents have watched as their kids were fixated on pixelated screens while mashing buttons on a controller. The whiz of discs spinning in a console has been drowned out by the wall-rattling sounds of explosions, gunshots, or repetitive background music. Parents would be “lucky” if their kid wore a headset to hide the gaming sounds except it would soon become obvious their child was even more unresponsive than before. Hours upon hours frittered away to “level up” or achieve a trophy. How did cavemen or pioneer parents deal with lethargic offspring shirking responsibilities and jeopardizing their health for the sake of video gaming entertainment? Surely, parents of the 21st century can just copy the tips and tricks employed by ancestral moms and dads to satisfactorily navigate the gaming conundrum.
Ok, so our ancestors were actually fortunate to not have to deal with such a parenting dilemma. No, this problem is one that’s burdening parents of the current generation for the first time in history. As technology advances and gaming becomes more immersive, the difficult decisions facing parents will only intensify:
Is gaming bad for your kids? Should you let your kid play video games?
Let’s examine how gaming has changed over the years and then take a look at aspects parents must consider when deciding if they should let their children be a gamer or not.
Old School Gaming
I was among the first generation of kids to be exposed to gaming. I fondly recall the days when I plopped down in front of the Commodore 64 to play Sid Meier’s Pirates! or Summer Games. Gaming was rudimentary back then compared to what’s offered now. I spent plenty of hours playing those computer games, but it was always a side venture. I didn’t live to play. Years later as gaming evolved, our family purchased the original Nintendo system, then later the Sega Genesis, and eventually the original PlayStation. The essence was always the same – wholesome video games like Super Mario Brothers or NHL 94 as an entertainment venue that was a supplement to other aspects of life. It wasn’t the main focus. I recall my gaming youth in fondness now – playing with my younger brother or friends. Gaming was simple, yet enjoyable. It didn’t corrupt morals, nor were the games so addictive that it took over one’s life. My parents were never really all that concerned with gaming getting out of control. Sure, they’d use gaming as a discipline device every so often. Meaning, we’d lose our privileges if we misbehaved. But losing those gaming privileges was almost always the result of some other behavior problem and had nothing to do with the gaming itself.
Fast forward to the present and gaming has evolved exponentially. The most recent, advanced consoles have been released in the Playstation 4 (PS4) and the Xbox One. The PS3 and the Xbox 360 have been out for around 7 years now and are the most popular and best selling gaming systems in history. I myself own a PS3 and, while I rarely have time to fire the system up these days, I can attest to what gaming is currently all about. The graphics are in impressive HD and the sound quality is top notch. Game plot lines are engrossing and are sometimes on par with Hollywood movies. Gaming is almost a 180 degree turn from where it was just 15 years ago. Games are more violent and sexual in nature. Online gaming has proven extremely addicting. It’s a completely different world – a world in which parents must be fully aware if they want to let their kids be involved in a healthy way.
If you are the parent of a boy from the ages of 7 to 18 years-old then undoubtedly you’ve been asked to purchase a Sony PlayStation or Microsoft Xbox gaming system for your son. Even young girls are being drawn into the gaming world these days. You may already be well-versed in the few pros and considerable cons of allowing your kid to be involved in gaming. If you’re new to the video gaming culture, on the purchasing fence, or even a gaming parent veteran, the following are important aspects you should evaluate before letting your child join the gaming world.
Gaming: Considerations for Parents
- Financial/Budget Aspects – This is an important consideration, but not necessarily the focus of this article. Gaming can be quite expensive and can take a toll on your budget. The initial outlay for a gaming system will be in the hundreds of dollars. Individual games, such as the ever popular Call of Duty series, will be another $60 or so upon initial release. Several game purchases a year can add up. Consider renting games or purchasing used in order to save money.
- Social – Ah, the social impact of gaming looms large. The primary reaction of parents is that immersing in video games means neglecting a social life. While this is, on face value, quite true – it’s not necessarily reflective of the real gaming world. Yes, your child will be eschewing face-to-face, real world social interaction. In-person interfacing, of course, is of crucial importance to social development. However, gaming has evolved to be heavily online. Thus, there is a large social aspect to gaming. If you allow your child access to online gaming, then he/she will be able to sync up with their friends in the online multiplayer options of various games. This should NOT be a replacement for “real life” social interactions. Meeting up for sports, study efforts, or even traditional slumber parties should be emphasized. However, be aware that your child’s social circle will likely be heavily involved in gaming and allowing your kid to participate will, to a certain degree, allow them to be included with everyone else.
- Health – This is an important consideration that is becoming more prevalent as stories of kids suffering detrimental outcomes from gaming become disclosed. It’s all too easy to spend hour after hour glued to your seat gaming. I’ve been there even as a responsible adult. There have been stories of people developing blood clots and dying because they sat on their backside for countless hours gaming. That’s an extreme example, mind you, but it’s still all-to-easy to jeopardize health if a healthy balance is not maintained. A spare tire and strained vision can develop rather quickly. Do NOT let your child’s gaming habits sink to such levels. If you decide gaming is appropriate for you child, set parameters and make sure your kid adheres to them. Ensure they are getting crucial physical activity or exercise by whatever means. This applies to psychological health too (see Addiction below).
- Addiction – Take it from me, gaming can be ridiculously addictive. How? Well, there are quite a few ways. Chief among them are the online gaming options. Most of these allow for continuous “leveling up” or advancing to the next level of status or perks. When all of your kids friends are competing to see who gets their fastest or who can achieve the best stats or highlights along the way, you’ve got a recipe for addiction. It can be bad too. And when addiction sets in, physical and psychological ramifications can occur. The more you let it get out of hand, the harder it will be to rectify. The best way to avoid such a situation is to set limits from the very get go and make sure you and your child are on the same page. Then, of course, you need to stick to your guns. Don’t let them take advantage or abuse the gaming world because they will if given the opportunity.
- Adult Material – This is what gets most of the attention in the media and press. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard of such adult oriented games as Grand Theft Auto (GTA) or Call of Duty. Yes, certain games should be restricted or monitored. Games do have ratings, similar to movies, so you can use that as a guide. Just like the movies, you should evaluate on a game-by-game basis. It will also depend on where your child stands on a maturity level. Some kids will be more influenced than others. If your child is able to separate fiction from reality, then you can perhaps be more lenient with the level of adult oriented games they play. As a parent, this can be a difficult area to ascertain, but, in the event of uncertainty, I’d advise erring on the side of conservatism. Remember, it’s always easier to allow a game with mature content once the child has demonstrated the ability to deal with those concepts than it is to erase exposure at a premature age/maturity level.
The Verdict: Should Parents Let Gaming Be a Part of Their Kid’s Life
Only you can decide what is appropriate. Fortunately, for me, I’ve got a ways to go before having to make such an important decision since my son is only 15 months old. However, that could be a double-edged sword because by the time he might be interested in gaming, about 7 years from now, the next and more advanced generation of consoles will be available. Honestly, I don’t think I’d even consider allowing a child of mine to join the gaming world until at least 13 years of age. Even then, it would be a case-by-case basis considering that individual child’s development and maturity level. Gaming just isn’t as innocent as it was years ago and I can’t fathom exposing and letting my child succumb to the potential pitfalls that currently exist unless they displayed the ability to responsibly handle them.
If you, as a parent, decide to allow your child to enter the gaming world, I would advise you monitor/supervise their gaming activities as best as possible. Evaluate what games they want to play and how much time they are investing. Don’t let them prioritize gaming over more important responsibilities such as homework/studies, in-person social activities, etc. Trust me, it can be all too easy to neglect your parenting duties by letting your kid be distracted by gaming. That’s a parenting cop out. Be involved with your kid’s life. They may seem to resent you in that particular moment, but eventually they’ll realize how important and valuable your oversight actually was.
So, to sum up, gaming isn’t the end all, be all devil. It may serve as a helpful hobby and social tool for your child. But, abuse can easily set in. Be proactive in monitoring what games your child plays (exclude the GTA games) and set limits on how much time they play. Be strong in sticking to your rules. Gaming can be good for you and your kids if it’s approached in a reasonable manner.
What are your thoughts on gaming? Did you play video games growing up? Do you struggle with whether you should allow your kids to be involved or not? Would you give your kids free reign when it comes to gaming? Or would you put explicit rules in place and fervently monitor gaming activity?