Tricks of the Gamer Dad
Whenever I talk to other parents about their children, usually at some point I talk about how I play certain games with my children, like Pokemon, or Super Smash Brothers, or Castle Crashers. What I hear back is “Oh, but video games are so bad for children but mine would play them all the time.”
I’ve got children who are getting straight A’s in school, who participate in school events - and they game. In some ways, games are <em>why</em> they’re where they are.
But that’s only because I am an evil genius. Bwahaha. Bwahahahaha! Bwahahahahahahahahaha!
OK. But really, there are things I’ve done with my children. Some of these are just general tips, others are specific things that I’ve done.
Tip #1: Pokemon at 5.
When each of my children turned 5, after years of reading to them at night so on and so forth, I give them a challenge:
If they can read ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ without a single mistake, then I’ll get them a Nintendo DS, and their own copy of Pokemon. So of course the idea of playing the cartoon they’ve been watching is OMG YAY TOTALLY GOING TO DO IT!
So over the course of a month, I’ll practice with them. Make them sound the words out. Point to words out of order so they can’t just memorize the book and regurgitate it.
Then when the day comes, and they’re able to read it without a single error, they’re so proud. And then they get Pokemon…
And realize that they have to read to play the game. Read the instructions. Read what people tell them in the game, read what happens to the Pokemon they catch, sound out the names, and on and on. So now if they’re going to play the game, they have to read. They have to think and look at the numbers to know how much power their Pokemon have. They have to use logic and strategy in understanding strengths and weaknesses.
Tip #2: Set the schedule
When my children come home from school, they can do whatever they want (after putting away their shoes and school things). Play games? Go ahead. Call your friends? Knock yourself out. Create a time machine from Twinkies and sardines?
Once the clock hits 3:30, that ends. Time for school work. They have to show me or their mother their homework when they’re done so we can critique it. If there are long term projects they’re expected to work on them.
One problem is that usually kids will rush through their homework and do a crappy job because they want to get back to play. That’s why from 4:00 to 6:30 there’s no electronics allowed on in the house. No TV, no DS, no PlayStation 3, nothing. This forces them to do - anything else. Read, play outside with their friends, swim in the pool - but until 6:30 nothing electronic.
Usually by then they have their other activities, like instrument practice, or gymnastics, or just dinner. So it’s not as onerous as you might think. And really, if I’m home at that time, it forces *me* to turn off the electronics too and read or play with them.
Tip #3: Responsible Play
This weekend, my youngest was grounded from playing any games of any kind. Why? He didn’t plug the PlayStation 3 controllers into their charging cords.
When my children play, they have rules they must follow: the TV and game system must be turned off. The controllers must be either put away or put in their chargers. The games must be in their cases - no disks laying around.
Any violation at all, and they are not allowed to play. There are no exceptions. There are no “But Daaaaad!” If you set a rule and then let them break it, then they learn not to follow the rules.
There are some others, like “If your portable console is not charged up before a trip then you may not borrow Mom or Dad’s. You must be responsible for your own system.” Or “No playing games while walking or out of the car on a trip.” They don’t get to play at the restaurant table, for example, if we go out.
Games are great tools for getting children to learn all sorts of skills - cooperation, reading, strategy, and the like. But if you’re the adult, then you have to be the adult: set the rules, teach the children to use them responsibly.
And then let them have fun from there.