Computer Games

Sharon,

Our son is addicted to computer games. How can we curb some of this, and get him to perhaps read a book? Any suggestions?

Dear Parent,

This question arrived on MY computer just before I sat down to a holiday dinner with two of my sons and one of their friends. They were between the ages of 19 and 25 and all of them had played many hours of video and computer games when they were younger. Seeking the “experts” opinion, I asked them, “What would your life be like now if you hadn’t played video games?” The immediate and unanimous response was, “We would have no friends.” They then started talking about all of the good times they had had with their friends talking about and playing video games.

These young men and I agree that computer and video games are not a complete waste of time. Computer and video games give the player challenging scenarios to figure out, are less passive then watching TV for example and engage the player’s mind in a variety of ways. They can also be played indoors by groups of people, no small thing in our urban environment. As my dinner guests pointed out, boys in particular often form important friendships while doing success related activities like sports and games. In the 21st century this includes computer and video games.

Having gone over some of the positive things about computer games, one of the problems is that more often than not they are played alone, sometimes for long periods of time. Children, like adults, thrive on companionship and interaction. I often suggest to parents that they find time to join in. Taking the time to learn about and try out your child’s big interest can turn an isolated activity into a social one. Your child will also know that you are not only critical of something he really cares about, a very important issue for young people. There is even a chance if you are a good person to have around during computer time they will be more willing to do other kinds of activities with you and can feel more comforta ble opening up about school, friends and other parts of their lives as well.

The boys at my table also said that some of these games can be very frightening. They cautioned against complete parental control, especially if parents have a negative opinion of all games, but suggested that parents should have the same kind of control they have over TV and movie selections. I heartily agree.

Beyond sitting down and learning about these games, you need to encourage your children to develop other interests, particularly ones that are active and physically challenging. Active games are important to a child’s physical growth, self-confidence and energy level. Of course any activity will be a lot more fun and interesting } if you are involved. Playing alone and playing with parental involvement or encouragement can make anything much more enjoyable and rewarding. Supportive parental involvement is one of the best ways to build your child’s self esteem.
You can also put a limit on the amount of time each day that your son plays these games and/or try a “no screen” week every six months or so. û The success of no TV weeks among people I know has been wonderful. Families have gotten to figure out all kinds of activities as alternatives to screen watching.

I’ll close with a word about reading. Reading offers rewards that are hard to find elsewhere. If your child has trouble picking up a book, remember that reading TO a child is an incredibly valuable thing to offer. A child is rarely too old to be read to. The more books you can find that match their interests the better. As a reading specialist for many years I learned that if a child has a positive relationship with the world of books they will eventually turn to them for all they have to offer. Good luck and thanks for this all important question.