Delaney Ruston: There is lots and lots of video gaming these days. Parents tell me how they feel torn because their child does not have any after school sports or activities where they see friends, so video gaming is where they connect with their friends. Yet, they worry about the sheer amount of hours — 3, 4, 5 hours.
Parents tell me about the “decision fatigue” they are seeing with their kids now during Covid. Their children say how they are worn down and giving up on trying to find alternative things to do besides video gaming (or shows, social media, etc.).
Parents feel worn down as well. And the truth is, of course, options are limited right now. I feel it these days now that the cold and rain has arrived in Seattle, and there are so few places to go to do something inside given Covid.
The newest game on the block is Among Us. If you haven’t seen or played it, the graphics remind me a little of Pac-Man. It is multiplayer, and in the game, one player is an imposter and out to kill the others, and it is up to the rest of the group to work together to determine the imposter.
The game is free and can be played on any device. The other day, my kids were laughing on the couch for hours while playing it. I joined in for a while — I was not very good at it.
Today I want to share advice gleaned from experts, parents, youth, research, and my experiences on how now during COVID, to effectively work with your kids to monitor video gaming and ensure they have other social time activities along with video games.
Focus less on the game and more on what it is displacing
There will be lots of video gaming right now, and that is okay. As a parent, we get big waves of feelings like “That amount of time on that game can’t be good for you.” Or, “That game is sucking up so much time,” and so on.
I highly recommend focusing less on talking with your kids about the need for less time video gaming but instead focus on ensuring other activities.
Stay away from discussions about the games themselves and even big discussions or arguments over the sheer amount of time. Instead, focus on the things you need to work with them to ensure.
Three “H’s” to encourage other activities
I developed this approach that I call the “3 Hs” to help. There are three buckets that you need your kids to put in their lives each day (or close to it) — Healthy, Helping, Humanness.
First H: Healthy. Talking with your kids about how parenting with integrity requires ensuring working with them to encourage healthy things. So, for example, your kids and teens need to be doing some physical movement. They can choose, or if they have not yet, you can create a list and identify a reasonable goal with them. Maybe it is just a 10-minute walk?
We want them to have the strength and stamina for games and sports outside when that becomes more feasible. One idea is to have them try a part of a boot camp class with you, taught by Darsenio. This boot camp is from my gym in Seattle, and Darsenio is one of my favorite teachers. Chase, my son, started doing his workouts online recently and really enjoys them.
Having small goals is key, so the goal is achieved, and they can get the dopamine hit. If you say to your child, “Hey, let’s do this whole 50-minute class,” then the odds are that might not happen. Instead, see if they will do 10-minutes with you. Hopefully, you both will end the 10 minutes wanting more and agree to do another 10 minutes tomorrow.
We all know that one of the main blockages of doing exercise is starting. When someone knows it will only be for 10-or 15-minutes, then the starting becomes doable. If instead, you do a big long class, it can be great, but then you find the next time you might be resistant because 50-minutes feels too long. I do this compulsory short time interval with my patients, young and old, all the time. The goal is to have them end with the feeling they want to do more. That helps get them to try the next day!
Another key health-promoting activity is sleep. Parenting with integrity means making sure your kids get healthy sleep. That requires working with them to have video games and other types of technology off at a specific time. Maybe it’s more realistic for you to make that rule for just three nights a week — either way, it counts.
Healthy eating is critical for proper development and long term health. You can have them commit to learning to cook one healthy meal a night (no, pasta does not count because it is high in simple sugars and low in nutrients, fiber, and protein). How about having them make an easy homemade vegetable soup?
Cut up (or use a food processor) an onion, three stalks of celery and two carrots, and a couple of garlic cloves and saute in a little olive oil. Then have them add a can of diced tomatoes, some water and salt, and vegetable bullion. Once the carrots are soft, add a can of white beans and some Italian seasoning and voila, you have home vegetable soup. They can add a little sugar because tomatoes are acidic. **I like this step because it shows them how much sugar comes in the store-bought soup. They will realize how much sugar they would have to add to make it taste the soup they have had in the past. The goal, of course, is not to add a lot of sugar to this soup. Serve it with some parmesan cheese and crusty whole-wheat bread.
Second H: Helping. This is all about the fact that every parent I have ever met wants to raise a child that knows helping out in the world is key. When our kids help out, we see that they show and talk about feeling good, prideful, and happy to help others.
Maybe two times a week, your child calls a younger cousin or grandparent who is feeling alone. How about having them write a card to a grandparent to surprise them. Perhaps once a week, you enlist them in a new activity to maintain the home, like changing batteries in the fire alarms or collecting trash outside for 10 minutes (we have a long claw tool that I love to use, along with gloves).
Third H: Humanness. Kids spend a ton of time-consuming “their” games, i.e., the video game maker’s games. We want to ensure that our kids’ unique humanness gets expressed and given time to grow. So, what game ideas do they have? Can they spend 30 minutes a week writing some ideas for characters and plots they come up with for a game in a notebook? If they are not naturally excited by these ideas, you might get ideas flowing by starting out sharing ideas you have.
Humanness is also about the fact that others appreciate their unique wonderful self. You want time with them — there is no replacement for that. You can’t substitute the cool conversations or laughter you have with them. And the same goes for their friends. Have they FaceTimed a friend that they play video games with? One-on-one time with a friend over FaceTime can lead to different types of conversations than what happens over a game of “Among Us.”
Ways to promote more positive video gaming interactions
Like all these multiplayer games, Among Us does allow kids to play with strangers. Talking about why this is not a good idea is always a good idea. The voice chat and typed chat features of Among Us means they can get exposed to people saying and typing really inappropriate things.
Many parents have the rule for their kids and younger teens that they play their video games in a shared part of the house, and they do not have headphones on while they play a video game with their friends remotely.
One parent told me this week how glad she was to have this rule because it has helped her know her son’s friends better.
Another benefit of this approach is that it also helps keep youth a little more aware of the words they use and how they interact. A win-win all around. Talk with your child about how important it is that their friends all know that they are not wearing headphones and in a public space. They may feel self-conscious to do this, and if they say they don’t want to, then, at least, they may have conversations about why their friends might want to know.
Some parents have their kids play headphone-free just part of the time. This makes a lot of sense if spaces are small, and the noise from the game is disruptive to the other people working or concentrating nearby. Again, friends all must know when others hear the game playing. The goal is not to “catch” kids swearing or being rude; it is about letting them know, allowing them to play more respectfully since they know others, i.e., parents, can hear them.
Ask to join. Partaking will give you a window into who they are playing with and how that dynamic is going. Also, joining in the fun has the additional benefit of validating your kids and lets them know you understand how much they enjoy playing their video games. That way, when it comes to working together to ensure breaks, and you say, “Hey, I get how fun this game is, and why it is hard to talk about limits,” your kids will believe you that much more.
Partnering with other parents
Finally, I want to address something that can be hard for parents and make a world of difference: reaching out to other parents and agreeing on video game limits. If you have a child or tween, it can be effective to talk with the other parents about setting a joint time during the school week that video gaming stops.
It can be hard for parents because they fear appearing “too controlling,” but the parents often appreciate the call and the opportunity to work together to make the school nights go smoother.
Here are a few questions to get a conversation started:
- What are your favorite video games to play these days, if any? If you have played “Among Us”, why do you think it is the new hit game — what makes it so engaging?
- What ways are each of us filling our three H buckets and what ways might we fill them a bit more? Health? Helping? Humanness — i.e., expressing and growing our unique creativity, unique thoughts, unique conversations, and so forth?
- How many of the friends you connect with through video gaming do you talk to at other times?