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I am a gamer.

I enjoy playing video games, and they've been a part of my life since I was a kid.

I believe there are a lot of potential benefits from playing video games, and I want to be able to share my interest in games with my son once he is old enough.

However, the technology is a lot different now than it was when I was growing up, and hand-held technology has made video games ubiquitous and incredibly accessible.

I see a lot of children, including relatives, who seem too attached to gaming at a very young age, and I worry that my son will become so attached to gaming that he will neglect other interests. It isn't an issue yet, though, as he's not quite 2, and his only exposure to video games is to occasionally play Fruit Ninja or Bowling on a smart phone (he enjoys it, but gets bored with it very quickly).

I want to share my love of video games with him, but I don't want that to result in my attempts to share my love of nature, geology, archaeology, reading, etc. with him being foiled by my son being unwilling to put down his Nintendo DS (or whatever the handheld platform of choice will be then).

I worry that heavily restricting access to games could backfire; my mother made attempts to restrict my video game time when I was growing up, and the result was that I tended to play obsessively within the times that I was allowed. In other words, "you can't play more than 5 hours of video games a week" has a tendency to become "you can play exactly 5 hours of video games a week, so make sure you squeeze every bit of entertainment out of that time you can".

What are some strategies that I can employ to introduce games, but also instill in my son a balanced perspective that will result in a variety of types of activities, rather than focusing exclusively on games?

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4 Answers 4

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The main feedback I can provide here is to model the behavior you want to see in your child. If your child sees you playing video games a lot, they'll see it as acceptable behavior and try to copy it. Note - even if you don't play video games a lot, it's what they see and remember that leaves an impression as well.

Video games can be "easier" for younger children to pick up compared to other activities - they get immediate encouragement through the game's sounds and visuals as they're playing, and adults will often let them keep playing longer than normal (kids are quiet and behaving, so adults will go do their own thing).

To get that balance of other activities, do them and get your child involved in them with you, and provide continuous feedback, even if it takes them a while to learn to do properly.

It's easier to get them involved in other things when they're younger and more impressionable - the same technique can get them interested in doing chores as well (our 3 year old thinks doing dishes is fun, even if he's not particularly good at it yet).

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I am a gamer as well. I have two sons, one is four and the other two. The eldest started playing computer games when he was two. The youngest is starting to learn to play now. His brother has been teaching him.

Rather than thinking of video games as something that can inhibit, use them to pique your son's interest. You can do this in a variety of ways:

  1. Reading skills. Help your son learn to recognize the common vocabulary of gaming, like "save, load, options, mission." It's a great confidence builder, and chance are, he'll be excited that he can navigate the menus on his own.

  2. Listening comprehension. Talk about the vocabulary that the characters use in their dialogue, discuss how the story is unfolding, and help interpret verbal instructions.

  3. Pretend play. Our rule is that our son must spend an hour "moving his body" for every half hour of game play. He will act out scenes from the game, run around and fight bad guys in the yard, make up stories in the car that use the characters from the game. (One of my favorites that my son made up was that Obi-Wan and Annakin go to a birthday party, and the Jango Fett crashes the party, but they've hidden their lightsabers in the birthday cake, so they defeat the bad guy, but there is cake everywhere so they have to lick the frosting off the windows. Hilarious.)

  4. Creative thinking. What I think is most important is talking through problem solving. My son is shockingly good at analyzing a scenario and figuring out a tactic to fight bad guys or solve puzzles. We have spent a lot of time verbalizing our strategies when we play. He has begun applying logical thinking to real-life situations, and I honestly think that it is because of the time we've spent together talking about problem solving.

  5. Inspiration. We made a potato cannon when we were playing Ratchet and Clank. We made kites like Clank's flying wings. We learned about electromagnets and skateboards and plasma and how rockets work. We built a catapult and talked about how levers work. We've even had a long discussion about gamma radiation. You can use the games that your son plays as a starting point for introducing exciting real-life stuff that he might not ever have thought of.

So in short, games are fun, and you can use that to your child's advantage. Have fun together!

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Given the opportunity, children will play computer games all day, and ignore everything else going on around them. Obviously, you don't want this. Some of the following may help:

  • Specify certain days or times when they may play computer (or console) games. Stick to these
  • Be fairly strict about whingeing and moaning when they are asked to stop.
  • Have lots of other interesting things to do. Tell them that they can go and do one of these activities instead.

But gaming is part of life these days. It's OK as long as they don't do it too much

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My son is five years old. Since he's not yet technically savvy enough to play on his own, the happy side effect is that video games are something he's forced to do with me, if he wants to do it at all. That makes it easy for me to be an example of moderation and good sportsmanship. Boys his age will almost always choose any activity with Dad over even very fun things on their own, and I am taking full advantage while I can. Hopefully those habits will persist into the Dad-hating years.

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