My oldest son was a freshman in high school when we purchased our first Xbox.
We’d put it off for years, listening to endless complaints about being “the only family in the world who doesn’t have one.” But my husband and I were afraid the moment the video gaming system entered our home, things would change. It’d draw our boys away from homework, away from playing outside, away from family time over dinner and a movie.
As our boys got older, we wanted to make the basement into a game room our boys would be proud to bring their friends. And so we revisited the conversation about video gaming, eventually buying an Xbox.
It’s now been five years. And I could probably count on my hands and feet the number of weeks that have passed without at least one conflict regarding the Xbox. (It usually starts with the question, “Have you finished your homework?”)
But gaming isn’t entirely evil. When I was in high school, Space Invaders and Pac Man were my games of choice. I remember many Saturdays and summer days playing with my brother and our neighbor friends. I’m now a well-adjusted and (relatively) responsible grown-up who rarely plays, convincing me that video games aren’t necessarily destructive long term, if moderated.
Did you know:
• 97 percent of teens ages 12-17 play computer, web, portable or console games
• Younger teen boys are the most likely to play games
• 65 percent of daily gamers are male, 35 percent are female
• For most teens, gaming is a social activity; 67 percent play with people in the room with them, 27 percent through an internet connection
• 79 percent of Mature and Adult-Only game players are boys
• 62 percent of parents of gamers say that video games have no effect on their child one way or the other
• Playing video games for as little as an hour can cause a boy to eat more throughout the rest of the day
• Teens play video games on average of two hours per day, more so for those on the younger end of that range. This does not include additional hours logged onto a computer or cell phone.
I’m not going to argue the benefits and dangers of video game usage (yes, evidence indicates both). And I’m not going to tell you to kick the PS3 to the curb, although in some cases it may be the right decision. Those are conversations you and your husband need to have together. For now, I have a few guidelines to help you navigate this issue:
• Do your homework. You expect your son to do his, so make sure you don’t slack on yours! Don’t be a mom who chooses ignorance. Use the Internet to read up on different games. Learn the lingo. Talk with those in the industry. Get as much information as you can. Your son already knows more than you do, so you have some catching up to do. To get started, check out Plugged In Online (http://www.PluggedIn.com) and Common Sense Media (http://www.commonsensemedia.org).
• Research video game ratings. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) provides impartial information on games so you can make an educated choice for your child. You can find out information on rating symbols and content descriptors on their website: http://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp
• Establish limits and stick with them. You are the parent. You pay for the technology and the electricity to keep them going. That means you have the right (and obligation) to set boundaries that work for your household. In our house, video games are off limits on school nights. On the weekends, we establish a two-hour time limit. Most of the sources I’ve read state a one-to-two hour time limit is appropriate.
• Balance video game usage with alternative activities. When my son comes downstairs with bleary and bloodshot eyes, I know he’s been on the Xbox too long. I respond by shutting it down and encouraging him to do something unrelated to a screen (computer, Xbox, cell phone). We call it “no screen time.” Once I remove the temptation of a screen-related activity, he usually comes up with a healthy alternative: hanging out with friends, a bike ride, jumping on the trampoline in the backyard, etc.
• Play with him. I know, I know. It’s the last thing I want to do, too. But occasionally playing a video game with your son might not be such a bad idea. As little as 30 minutes can give you a better education than hours reading on the Internet. It will also give you insight into your son’s world and, hopefully, will demonstrate you care enough to initiate an ongoing dialogue.
How big of a player are video games in your home?