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Harnessing Video Games

Video games in this day and age are everywhere.

I consistently see kids on iPads and iPhones playing games (or watching movies) at restaurants.  I once saw a mom with two young boys at the Costco food court, each glued to their own iPad while their mom pleadingly fed both of them. The boys were barely willing to turn away from the iPad for even one second just to receive a bite of food from mom. I also know of kids who are so addicted to video games that they spend every minute locked in their rooms playing.  To top all that, I also know adults in their 30’s and 40’s who act just the same.  Given the prevalence and seeming addictiveness of video games, I am very cautious of how I guide my family in their engagement with this technology.  My first instinct is to do away with all video games and ban my kids from it.  As much as this is tempting for me, I know it is unwise: 1) there is nothing intrinsically immoral about video games, and 2) I am wary of parenting out of fear or legalism.

Thus, over the past few years, our family has gone through various approaches to video games in our home.

In the beginning, our kids weren’t exposed to video games.  As they got older they became more interested, especially when they heard about certain games from friends.  At that point we allowed them to play and quickly figured out a system to help streamline this form of entertainment.  The kids had to earn stickers for doing school and chores, and once every four stickers were earned, they may play 20 minutes of video game of their choice.  Up to 80 minutes of video game time could be redeemed at a time.  This system worked for a long time but over time they began to crave spending more of their free time playing (whether on a console, a tablet, a smartphone or a PC).

As we saw our kids’ growing hunger for video game time, my husband and I went back to the drawing board and discussed the nature of video games — whether they were harmful, whether it was even possibly helpful (hand/eye coordination, teamwork on collaborative games, etc.)  A friend even informed us that while growing up, he had been allotted 30 minutes of video game every day and after that he had to go outside and play.  We decided to give this system a try.  The kids no longer had to earn stickers to play. Instead, they were given 30 minutes per day as long as their school work and chores were done.  This new system was more immediately gratifying because they no longer had to wait a long time to earn enough stickers to play.  I  also enjoyed this system  because the kids were so eager to finish their school and chores just so they could play.  However, within a few weeks, I inadvertently discovered that they were secretly playing games during school time.  Penalties were implemented, and before long, weekly and monthly bans were installed.  Yet in spite of those warnings & bans, the kids still found (unauthorized) ways to play.  We analyzed the situation and realized that the more they had consistent video game time, the more they desired it.  They almost lived and breathed it – we had inadvertently created a steady appetite that grew.  What’s more, they were often just talking about their video game accomplishments (thank you, Minecraft!!!) when away from the games. In light of the growing difficulty we were having reigning in their hunger for video game time, we called an indefinite ban on video games for everyone until further notice, and until we’d had more time to consider if there were better ways to integrate this entertainment into our family life.

As we instituted the ban, we explained our reasons behind it.  Our primary concern was their addiction to it.  We shared that if they could play video games without their thoughts and time being dominated by them (or a hunger for them), we’d let them play.  I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 6:12 where it says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything.”  We are free to do anything but we must evaluate whether this one thing we desire is beneficial for us.  Will it also take control over us?  Even as God gave the command to Adam to subdue the earth, can’t we apply the same principle in subduing video games and not let it dominate over us?  I believe we should teach our children to overcome or subdue video games (or any form of entertainment, really) instead of simply banning them and imagining that we’ve actually accomplished any form of parenting in the process.  This idea of learning how to overcome something instead of removing the item itself is a valuable lesson that can be applied to other areas.

That was a few months ago.  How are we faring now? Our kids don’t seem to crave video games as much. Instead, they go outside and play and enjoy the outdoors.  When they’re inside, they’re more creative with their free time because their first thought isn’t to plop in front of devices and play video games. A long break has enabled them to appreciate other activities in life.

So do they get to play video games?  Yes, but on an ad hoc and definitely not on a frequent, ongoing basis. We don’t have a set schedule for video games. Instead, the kids simply  ask for permission and we say yes or no depending on the situation. When the kids play, they’ll usually go at it anywhere from one hour to four hours at a time.  However, the frequency is greatly reduced which is about every 2-3 weeks.

All of the above is merely our own experience. Through it:

  • we’re learning to fight the temptation to just enforce a law
  • our kids are learning to enjoy video games without feeling a need for them
  • we’re all learning something about partaking of God’s gifts but avoiding making idols of them
  • we’re appreciating that parenting, like all of life, is an ongoing experience of trusting God through our imperfect wisdom

Hopefully some of you, our faithful & few readers, may find our experiences helpful. And, of course, if you have any helpful insights, we’d love to hear them!

Posted in Our Family, Parenting, Theology in Life.

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