Once upon a time…
I often think that our children today inhabit such a very different world to the one in which we grew up that it can seem difficult to find common ground for family activities. I’m willing to accept that this problem may be due in part to parental rose-coloured-glasses syndrome.
My admittedly soft-focus memories of outdoor games in the park, spacehopper races round the garden and Blue Peter approved paste-and-glitter-covered craft tables may not encompass the full spectrum of our family’s leisure pursuits, but they certainly featured prominently till I was well into my teens.
I do wonder if our children are having quite as much unbridled fun as we did. We were at least allowed to get grubby playing out and experience the pleasure of daubing real paint on actual paper – I feel quite sorry for the little girl in the TV ad who has to confine her artistic endeavours to an iPad and an inkjet printer (and for the early-onset HSBC-backed lemonade entrepreneur – but that’s another story).
Getting the balance right
Of course lots of children – especially the pre-tweens – still get to enjoy the timeless pleasures of traditional play with their friends and parents. But you can’t escape the lure of TV and technology for long, given that it’s become such a central resource in most British homes.
One of my son’s friends has no TV or internet access at home because his parents made a conscious decision to try family life without technological distractions. In many ways, it’s a noble endeavour but I can’t help wondering if it’s an altogether effective strategy, especially as the child has to access school or library computers to research homework assignments and gets his gaming kicks in the homes of pals with less restrictive practices.
We can’t ignore technological developments in a world where change is the only constant; far better, then, to embrace the challenge and turn it to our advantage. For parents who want to spend more time with their children, bonding over the latest computer game or iPhone app is a great way to create a shared experience that will also help you to establish rules of engagement for game-play in general.
You could simply start by asking to share some gaming time with your child. You’ll probably get a more positive response if you make your suggestion in advance – when chatting at the dinner table or walking back from school – rather than interrupting a computer game that’s already in progress.
Most children love to be given the opportunity to be the teacher rather than the pupil, for a change, so why not ask them to tell you which games they think you’d enjoy? Maybe ask for their top three recommendations – and give them an idea of the type of game play you think you might enjoy (puzzles, role-play or sports, for instance).
If you feel inspired to choose a new game to learn together, Common Sense Media has a great resource bank with plenty of good ideas for starter games that are perfect for parents to play with children of all ages. Again, it would be good to ask your child for advice, perhaps making a shortlist and discussing the pros and cons of each before reaching a decision.
Rules of engagement
Unless you’re an avid gamer yourself, you’ll probably find yourself in unfamiliar territory. Don’t be in a rush to take control: be prepared to take a back seat and learn from your child who will relish the role reversal. In the early stages you might want to watch the game play unfold while your child talks you through the action.
Aim to get involved gradually and have a go at the simpler, self-contained tasks that may arise from time to time – my son used to love Ratchet & Clank but always called for me to help with a specific on-screen task that he knew I enjoyed and was good at.
If, like me, you’re not a games buff, you may have to put your own interests to one side for a while (I hate Monopoly and rounders but have played more than my fair share of both over the years). Whatever happens, don’t let tempers fray. Give your session a fixed time so neither of you has time to get tired or frustrated with the game or each other. And maybe have something to look forward to at the end – a milkshake or a treat.
Adapt and survive
When it comes to computer games, the default setting for some parents is disapproval. It’s important to recognise that this isn’t always a considered response, but often a reaction lodged in preconceived ideas about the suitability of an activity which can be solitary and all-consuming.
As long as your child is enjoying a wide range of activities – indoor and out – there’s no reason why computer game-play shouldn’t form part of their (and your!) family leisure time. If you feel you’d like to bring more control to your child’s screen time, though, we hope that Better Family Habits can provide some support and practical strategies.