Making Video Game Play “Digitally Nutritious”

Once you have accepted that digital technologies and video games are here to stay in your child’s life, it becomes very important to make this involvement productive, healthy and “digitally nutritious”. Unfortunately, there aren’t any long-standing parenting guidelines or manuals to help you find your way in your child’s digital world. However, we can use many well-founded parenting principles and apply them to the digital age. What follows is a set of strategies that has proven to be helpful for teaching children critical-thinking, problem-solving, and academic skills in the analogue age and will continue to be useful in the digital world.

1. Be involved and know what your child is doing. If you want to teach your child to play baseball,   or about the joy of cooking, you need to know how to do these things yourself. As a parent of a child growing up in the digital world, you need to know something about video games, other digital technologies, and the Internet.

2. Do things with your kids. This will never change. If you engage in activities that your child enjoys, you will build your relationship with the child and also learn about the child’s interests, strengths, and weaknesses.

3. Sometimes coaching and listening is better than teaching. You may wish to spend time as an observer, watching your children playing video games without making any judgments. Use open-ended questions and learn about what they are doing.

4. Encourage your children to be your teacher. The fact is that your child may know more about video games and digital technologies than you do. As “digital natives,” they are comfortable with these technologies and unafraid to make mistakes with them.  As many a teacher will tell you, the best way to learn is to have to teach something. When you ask your children to teach you about their knowledge of video games and digital technologies, they will be forced to think about how they use them.

5. Teach your children about what you know. Make a point of learning about other games and technologies that you can teach them. By your getting involved in an area of their interest, they are likely to want to engage with you and learn more about how to use these technologies productively.

6. More is not better. Setting limits on the amount of time your kids are involved with digital technologies will make it more, rather than less, productive. Digital technologies and digital play in general need to be part of a healthy, balanced play diet and should not at any time be the most important component of a child’s play and learning activities.

7. Model appropriate balance for work, family, and play. While it is perfectly fine to use video games and other digital technologies as a form of relaxation and fun, there is more to life than playing games and “getting away from it all.” Modeling appropriate technology use in your life is a helpful way for your children to learn about this.

8. Encourage social activity. To the degree that children play video games with friends and family members, there is always a productive and connecting component to their play. While again too much of a good thing may not be good, there are compelling data that suggest that social gaming can enhance family relationships and friendships.

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