December 14th, 2008 / 7 Comments
A mom asked me: “My 8-year-old son wants to have a few friends over to play computer games. The kids will each bring their own laptops so they can play online together. Should I let them? Shouldn’t they be doing other things if they are going to spend time together?”
First, let’s consider the bigger picture::
1. Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) are not just for the few hardcore gamers, but are mainstream games popular with many kids now. Their popularity is growing, and they are here to stay. Instead of Monopoly, it’s World of Warcraft.
2. If you have a computer at home, chances are, your kids will discover the thrill of computer games. Unless you live in a cave on a deserted island, your kids will hear about and talk about computer games at school.
3. Boys are much more likely than girls to be hooked on computer games. They have a natural need for adventure, competition, and desire for mastery. That’s what makes them men – hunters and conquerors.
4. The younger the child starts playing hours of computer games, the more likely he will get addicted to games as he gets older.
What I am saying is, this issue of gaming for young children has become a big issue. With that in mind, you can not expect a simple yes/no answer to your dilemma.
So my answer will be complex, involve much more parental involvement, and probably not what you want to hear. Keep an open mind as you read my 8 Step Plan:
1. Apparently your son is already playing online games with his friends. Isn’t it better to have them play in your house under your supervision? I would welcome his friends to come over to play, rather than not knowing who he is playing with.
2. Before his friends come, find out what games they like to play. Then you (or maybe your husband) should log on and learn to play the games yourself. Test to see what the game is like, what’s good and what’s bad about it. First-hand experience allows you to talk to your son in an intelligent manner, gives you credibility when you warn him of dangers, as well as gives you some insight into the personality of your son.
3. Let’s compare this to an offline example. Suppose your son wants to play tennis, wouldn’t you be researching about where the best tennis classes are, what type of age appropriate racket to buy, and who he is playing tennis with?
In this age of computers, we as parents need to apply the same diligence to the online arena. Educate yourself on the computer games that your son is interested in. Google more information on the games and find reviews about them. Join some parenting forums and ask others for their opinions. I keep up with the latest information by talking to the young adults at my church.
4. Before the friends come, discuss with your son the amount of time they will play. Do this diplomatically. Begin by asking your son how long he expects to play. If he says a reasonable amount – one to two hours would be within range for his age – then you’re set.
If he wants an excessive amount of time like 3-4 hours, your knowledge of the game will come in handy. You know generally how long it takes to finish a game, and you know if the game can be saved and continued another day. You can discuss this with your son and come to an agreement of, say 1 1/2 hours.
5. As mentioned above, boys have a need to do “boy things.” and work out their energy. So plan ahead to take the boys away from the computers after their game time and get them to sweat a little. DO NOT expect them to happily turn off their computers and find a quiet board game to entertain themselves. DO NOT say, “Just go find something else to do.” Computer/video games are their culture and their default position. They need your help to proactively find other forms of activity.
Take them to the park with a basketball or frisbee or whatever sport they like. Take them to those laser tag places where their need for conquest can be satisfied. Take them to those indoor rock climbing places if there is one near you.
6. Explain your plan to the friends’ parents. I am sure they would appreciate you limiting their kids’ use of the computer. The hidden agenda here is that this will hopefully set an example of what they can do if your son were invited to their house to play.
7. When your son’s friends are at your house, let them know clearly your plans and expectations. Let them know that when the timer goes off after their allotted time, you will disconnect their computers, whether or not they are finished with their game.
During their game time, let them maximize their enjoyment by not interrupting them (they don’t want a snack, they don’t have to use the bathroom, they don’t want anything…!). Set the timer and put it in front of them. Give them a 20-minute warning before time is up to save their game, then a 5-minute warning before shut down.
When the timer rings, there is no “wait, just one more minute” or “we’re almost finished.” Simply pull the plug, literally.
8. “Hey, let’s go out for some ice cream. Then we’ll go to the park.” Be positive and upbeat, no nagging, no discussion, no negotiating for additional time.
No, life is not simple anymore. The pull of computer games is strong. If you expect games to have a healthy place in your son’s life, you must forcefully turn the wheel and steer it down the narrow path.
This is the challenge for parents in this age of computer games.