I fondly remember being a child of the 80’s and the wonders that it brought. From bikes to trains to video games, we surely had it all. Or so we thought. Imagine what our formative years would have been like were we exposed to what children and teens have at their disposal these days. Electronic devices and video games are overwhelmingly more advanced than their now-ancient predecessors and social media is a concept that has only entered our lexicon within the last 15 years or so. Despite the monumental differences in platforms and tools, the overlapping things are entertainment and socialization. When taken down to their basic levels, children today are dealing with the same issues that their parents did many years prior.
As parents, you always try to stay current with what your children are into; but inevitably they may pass you up with their mastery of said interest. One can easily do a Google search for the dangers of video games or social media and I will be the first to echo some of those potential dangers. However, the more important search should be to explore your children’s interests and tools they are using. When clear expectations, communication, understanding and moderation are used with regards to video games & social media, it can help both sides experience less frustration and aggravation.
I freely admit here that I struggle to keep up with the advancements in video games, particularly the changing social aspect of playing games. To be that person, back in my day we had to be in the same room as your friend if you wanted to play together. The idea that I would be able to play with a friend down the block or in another state would have blown my 12 year old’s mind. That was inconceivable of a notion to me, yet here we are in a time where I can play a game with a friend on the other side of the world.
Acknowledging and owning my ignorance has helped me to accept that this is the world that our children live in. They don’t know what it is like to hope that your friend is in the same building as their land line so that you can arrange whose house you were going to play your new Nintendo game. It is different for parents, but not for the generation that has these tools at their disposal. Instead of fighting it, we need to embrace it as they have so clearly done. But with that should come a period of vetting the process. It is amazing how much a kid will talk about their favorite video game if given the chance. And yes, probably 95% of it goes right over your head; but that moment is not lost with your child in you taking an interest in their interests. Sit down and play a game of Fortnite or Call of Duty and embrace that you are a ‘noob’ (someone new to gaming as defined by Urban Dictionary). You won’t have a clue what you’re doing, but have fun learning and getting a glimpse into the lives of your kids. Having more understanding of what they do and how they do it helps decrease the amount of possible assumptions that are drawn. Talk with your children about the social components of video gaming just as you would teach them about any other form of social interaction they have in their lives. The skills are the same, only the vehicle for communication is different.
Okay, so by now you’re saying, “he hasn’t said anything about the violence in video games.” That is correct. Video games have definitely changed from long blocks hitting a single block, to a plumber jumping on turtles to images that look so real you almost cannot tell the difference. The overall premise of video games have not changed much over their existence. They have always been comprised of a character in some form trying not to die with the goal to destroy as many other characters as possible. While games have become considerably more immersive and realistic, they remain a story that one plays out. When children have become age-appropriate for video games, they have developed a good moral compass and the ability to separate fantasy from reality. This only increases with age and when they enter their teen years, their moral compass has expanded to a wider world-view. However, as parents, that vetting task is crucial here to ensure that your children have an understanding of the differences between their games and the real world.
Warning parents! This part is a plug from your children. There are also benefits to playing video games, believe it or not. Survey 10 children/teens what they like about playing video games and all 10 would most likely say, “they’re fun!” Of course they’re fun, why wouldn’t they be a good time? Playing video games is a pleasurable activity for most and as a result, it releases dopamine in our brain. It is no different than when our brain releases dopamine from other pleasurable activities such as running, riding a bike, dancing or laughing. Research shows that the amount of dopamine released from playing video games is not significantly higher than any other pleasurable activity, generally about double our resting rate levels (drug use releases about 10 times the amount of dopamine). Playing video games can help improve such things as visual acuity, attention, spatial memory and executive functioning (which can positively impact improvement in critical thinking skills and the ability to make reasoned decisions). Video games also have become an important coping tool for many children and teenagers specifically. Most will report that it is a great outlet for them to manage their always-fluctuating moods. Although I’m sure it can be difficult for a parent to see their kid yelling at a video game and think that it’s helping their mood, but you might be surprised at the answer you get from them (but ask after they’re done playing though, not in that moment).
With all of this said, I return to the earlier notion on having clear expectations, communication, understanding and moderation with your children. At the onset of kids playing video games, it is crucial for the parents to establish what the norms, rules and expectations are for allotted video game time. If the precedent is set early that there is no consistency in the aforementioned tasks, it becomes difficult to undo it down the road. On the flipside, when things do change (and we know that things will change, as they usually do) we need to work with our children on re-defining the norms, rules and expectations. Helping them be flexible in making changes to their routines will help immensely with any adjustment period. Video game time can be a positive, but should be like everything else in life, consumed in moderation.
That brings us to social media. This is the modern-day passing a note to someone else, sharing today’s fad or trend, engaging in the rumor mill, belonging to cliques and everything else that has to do with one’s social life. The platforms and vehicles are new, but the behaviors are the same as their parents before them. If Snapchat or Instagram existed during your teenage years, you would probably use it, let’s be real. Your kid is on Snapchat, while you’re on Facebook both doing the same things in slightly different ways. Teens are equipped with so many tools to share their lives and stay up-to-date with whatever is happening in their friends’ lives, engaging in the same basic behaviors that their parents did and their parents before them did. The behaviors are the same, just the tools have changed.
Unfortunately, as the tools have advanced and become prolific, it brings with it more potential exposure to negativity. Just as with video games, working with your children on balance & moderation, while exploring the differences in the online world vs. the real world is what needs to take place. Be involved in how & why your children prefer the social media platforms they use, but not over-involved to the point where you have to sneak peeks into their Snapchat account. Have open dialogue with your children about social media like video games so that they know they can talk to you about the good and the bad about it; because they will experience both, as social media is merely a reflection on life, good and bad.