Playing Video Games with Our Kids – Does It Make a Difference?

Do you think it’s important to play video games with our kids? Is not playing video games a way to voice our opinions that video games are “bad”?

There was an interesting article today in a South Carolinia newspaper, reporting that 43 percent of parents never play video games with their kids. Then it goes on to say that, “While experts debate whether electronic gaming is bad news or a blessing for children and their families, many parents are voicing their preference by never – or seldom – joining their kids when it’s time to slay cyber scoundrels.”

It got me thinking, because recently, I stopped playing video games. Yet, I have the opinion that video games are not inherently bad, or that spending time doing that is “a waste of time.” I have simply chosen to do other things.

My son and husband play instruments. I never play with them. I like to run and do yoga. They never do these things with me. Does this mean we harbor negative feelings towards each others’ interests?

Even when I was playing a lot of video games, it was rare that I played the same video games as my kids. They like games like Crash Bandicoot and Webkinz. I liked games like City of Heroes and Everquest.

So I’m reading this article, wondering what the research really means. Does it mean that nearly half of our country’s parents think video games are a waste of time?

Or is it, perhaps, that most people of parenting age didn’t grow up with video games on the list of recreational activities? Perhaps it doesn’t have that same draw?

Or maybe it’s that us parents really do have an issue with video games. (But not so much that we don’t allow our kids to play them.)

I grew up a gamer. I was one of the very first to have an Intellivision. I went to the video arcades after school. I had many handheld games (It’s how I learned the rules of football). And I built my first computer back when the 286 processor was new (I built it so I could play Zork and Wizardry.)

I grew up in a similar fashion as many of the kids today are growing up – plugged in and interactive. Minus the realistic violence.

Perhaps this gives me a unique perspective. This is why playing with my kids isn’t all that important. I remember what it was like to go to the used game store to trade my original Nintendo and GameBoy games. I can remember the thrill of reaching an electronic goal. I know what it’s like to lose 5 hours to a game and being late for class because of it. I’ve done it. I survived.

I rarely play games with my kids. But I understand my kids. I understand that a passion for video games is on the same level as a passion for music, sports, comic books, acting, art, cars, knitting or interior decorating. Any passion can be taken to the extreme.  Any passion can be healthy, fun and worthwhile (so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, of course.)

So what’s keeping us from bonding with our kids when they play video games? Is it walking away that keeps us from bonding? Or is it an invisible wall that we put there by choice? And when our kids play video games, instead of being curious and asking about it like we would ask about a baseball game or an art class, we ignore it, or even bash it?

Coming from the experience of having a lifetime of video games, my kids love them and I don’t mind. But what I didn’t grow up with are cell phones and text messaging. I still don’t text message and I just starting using my cell phone more often. My kids aren’t into that yet (not quite old enough, and not in school to see all the kids with theirs), but one day they will be. It’s inevitable. The question I have to myself – will I be so accomodating and understanding about that as I am with video games – simply because I didn’t grow up with it?

What’s your take? Do you think that 1) not playing video games with our kids is a message to them that we do not approve of their playing? and 2) a main cause for our cultural inability for adults to embrace our children’s video game playing is our generation gap?


5 Responses to “Playing Video Games with Our Kids – Does It Make a Difference?”

  1. Anna Says:

    I remember my mom did substitute teaching one semester to earn the money to buy my dad one of the first Atari consoles. I think that I was nine. I gave up gaming around 12, though. My brother got a console when I was 15 or 16. It simply did not appeal. I would play a little Mario Bros, but I was not going to spend any real time doing it.

    My husband is a total gamer. I just shrug.

    I do have a simple answer to why many parents do not play with their kids. One, it is a perceived waste of time. Not very ‘grown up’. Two, do you know what I can accomplish if my kids are playing games? Good lord! A spotless bathroom! Uninterrupted reading! Making a complete grocery list and menu for next week! Video games give me a break from parenting for an hour.

    Mine are a lot younger than yours, but I really enjoy their time playing PBSkids or Sesame Street or Noggin.

  2. Stephanie Says:

    I don’t play hide’n’seek with my children either. They don’t seem to be the worse off for it. I do occasionally play old-style Tetris with them; they stare in awe when I tell them I used to get up to (mumble mumble) level. The story is a true one but I had much younger eyes then :)). We don’t play many other video games simply because my frenetic 7-year-old seems very intent on copying moves that cannot be duplicated by three-dimensional humans. (No, you cannot do that step-over-toe-hold high kick with a twist. I don’t CARE that your favorite character can do it!) For the sake of the furniture, the cats, and the hospital bill, video games have been put off until MB understands, however vaguely, his own and others’ mortality.

    My own take on whether playing or not playing is a major deal to our children: piffle. If that was the only interaction between parents and children, maybe it would be a big deal — and perhaps in this era of two-income, majorly stressed-out and distracted parents with overscheduled offspring, that IS the only time they ever interact with their children. In which case I’d say they’ve got bigger problems than the video game do-or-don’t.

    My kids love me. They really, really do. They’ll humor me when it comes time to make pizza, they love it when I pull out books and read to them, and they tolerate my singing. Yet every once in a while they will snarl at me until I go away and let them play with their own imaginations. I suspect this will hold true whether it’s fingerpainting or whatever is in the Playstation at the time.

  3. Donna Says:

    My husband plays video games with our eldest daughter. She really loves spending the time with him. Myself, I’m using that time to get some sewing done, or watch Japanese television shows, or read blogs–things that are often interrupted and I can’t really enjoy.

    I think there are many reasons why parents don’t play games and I think disapproval is only one of them.

  4. sam Says:

    I love playing games with my kids, though my youngest plays by killing off whichever character he picks over and over again. How a child can get so much joy out of walking off the edge of everything he comes across I’ll never know.

    Maybe some of these parents who don’t play have gotten tired of being beaten by their kids. At nine years old my son is quite capable of beating me at a number of games, though I’m still very often able to win myself.

  5. Karen Says:

    I don’t play computer games much at all. Partly because the few that I did play (can you say PacMan!) I found to be addictive. Not only that, but they increase my tension level. I’m not sure if it’s the ever-increasing pace of the game or the music or maybe that I feel like I’m being timed to reach a particular level, but I just cannot play them and find them relaxing. I like the Wii with it’s sports games. Those are fun. But even Zelda made me tense. I don’t even play PC games because of those two reasons, addictiveness (which worries me, even when it’s just Solitaire) and/or increasing my tension level.

    As for not playing them with our children, well, man, how often can you blow yourself up on Halo before you just find better things to do?! We’ll play euchre instead. 🙂

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