Befuddled by Minecraft? Confused by Guitar Hero? Positively averse to Pokemon Go? Welcome to parenting in the 21st century. Not only does our kids’ obsession with their devices concern us; it also has many of us confused. Add to that the fact that the news cycle seems to flip-flop daily on the impact of all of that gaming. One day, you’ll read how video games give kids an incredible academic edge against non-video playing peers. The next, it’s all doom-and-gloom studies confirming our worst fears: Those long hours playing games will lead to a host of neurological and psychiatric disorders.
That said, there are some very compelling reasons why we shouldn’t just monitor and mentor our kids’ online lives, but we should participate in them as well. And by that we mean truly connect with our kids in some of their most beloved online environments and special moments like family video game time. Whether that means helping them build a world in Minecraft or getting out of the house to catch some Pokemon. Ready to have some fun? Here’s why you should.
From Conflict to Conversation
When parents enter their kids’ worlds of interest, it can make a subtle but powerful shift. Researchers at the Arizona State University discovered that parents and kids sharing the video game experience cultivated greater family bonding, learning and well-being.
“Parents miss a huge opportunity when they walk away from playing video games with their kids,” says one of the study’s researchers, Elisabeth Hayes. “Often parents don’t understand that many video games are meant to be shared and can teach young people about science, literacy and problem solving.”
STAT: 91 percent of US children between ages of 2-17 play video games (64 million) according to NPD Group.
The Great Connector
Other research shows that the act of playing video games together can make people feel more connected. Shared game time has been shown to boost both the emotional and psychological connection between players, according to game developer and author Jane McGonigal. McGonigal also gives a riveting TED talk arguing why we should be playing video games with our kids. You may not agree with it all, but watching the talk with your kids can make for an amazing conversation starter about a topic that is more often argued over than rationally discussed.
STAT: Nearly three out of five parents say they play video games with their kids at least once a week, according to a 2015 survey of more than 4,000 U.S. households commissioned by the Entertainment Software Association. According to that same study, 30 percent of mom gamers with children age 5-12 say video games help them connect with their kids.
Huge Benefits for Girls
Fascinating research from Brigham Young University has shown that tween and teen girls in particular benefit from playing video games with mom and dad. In a study of 11 to 16 year olds that involved 287 families, it was discovered that girls behave better, feel more connected to their families and have improved mental health when they co-play video games with parents. But the research came with a huge caveat: Those amazing benefits were only seen when the video games were age appropriate.
Healthy Role Reversal
When kids play video games with their parents, they often get to take the lead as teachers while mom and dad learn to navigate new territory. And that fluidity of roles can provide a key factor in creating happiness in families.
“Games provide a wonderful platform for intergenerational play and learning,” said Katie Salen, executive director of Institute of Play, a nonprofit design studio that develops new models of learning and engagement. “Kids often take the lead in showing their moms what they know how to do in the game—they are the experts! This gives both moms and their children a chance to interact and learn together, which we know from a developmental perspective has great benefits.”
STAT: According to one study, average daily video game play among kids ages 8 to 18 rose from 26 minutes per day in 1999 to almost 110 minutes (nearly two hours) per day by 2009.