I have a confession to make: I may be scummy, but I actually work pretty hard at trying to be a good mummy. I make my kids eat vegetables at least three times a week.
I read them their favourite books, even though I’ve read Dig Dig Digging so many times I’d rather dig a hole in the back garden and bury it forever. I organise trips to the park and pretend I’m having a lovely time enjoying nature when really I’m just looking out for dog poo and wondering how long it is before I can go home for a sit-down and a cup of tea.
Importance of quality downtime
If ten years of being a mum have taught me anything (and they have taught me so many things, including never give a child a blue raspberry slushie before a long car journey, and how to get glittery slime out of the carpet), it’s that parenting is about balance. Of course, you have to make sure they brush their teeth and go outdoors and do their homework and all of that. But kids also need downtime, just like us grown-ups, and they love family time where you’re sharing an activity they really enjoy.
For our family, that often means playing video games. Recently my son and I have been playing Knockout City, a fun, fast-paced dodge ball game that is great to play together. In real life, Charlie and I don’t always want to do the same things – I’d rather have a lie down than climbing a tree, he’s not a massive fan of binge-watching Married At First Sight Australia – so it’s been great to share a hobby we both enjoy.
Changes in gaming over the years
But I know there are lots of parents out there who haven’t really played games since the days when it was all Italian plumbers and blue hedgehogs. Maybe you loved gaming when you were a kid, but it’s been years since you swapped your controller for control pants. Video games have come a long way since then, and I understand that trying to navigate this new world can feel a bit daunting – whether you’re trying to manage screen time, keep them safe online, or just stop them pouring yoghurt into the slot where the discs go.
Setting digital boundaries with Parental Controls
The good news is that all the consoles have built-in parental controls you can use to manage your kids’ gaming. I have adjusted our settings so my children can only play games appropriate for their age, and can only chat online with people they know in real life. Of course I still keep an eye on what they’re playing and who they’re talking to, but it means I can relax a bit and let them enjoy a gaming session while I do a bit of cleaning or important work (sit in the other room with a glass of wine.)
And don’t worry if you’ve never used these controls before – there are plenty of guides online, thanks to resources like the Internet Matters website. If you’ve ever done an Ocado order or used Deliveroo, you can do this.
Managing screen time
I know that managing screen time can be challenging – it’s something we’ve definitely struggled within our house. Over the years I’ve learned a few tactics, such as having a conversation with your child before the gaming session starts about how long they think they should play for.
I’ve often been quite surprised by how reasonable they can be, and how easy it is to reach an agreement. We’ve found it helpful to then set the time limit together, maybe by using an alarm clock next to the telly that they can see – or sometimes we just set the timer on the oven. We usually set two alarms, so they get a warning when there are 20 minutes to go and don’t start another match or mission. I’m not going to pretend we don’t still have arguments when it’s time to switch the console off, but they happen less often and are less intense.
Recognising the benefits of gaming
Despite the challenges involved, I do think it’s worth taking the time to talk to your kids about games and find ways to manage them that work for your family because they have some great benefits.
No, I’m not going to pretend video games will improve your child’s hand-eye coordination, or help them pass their maths GCSE. If that were the case, my six-year-old would be a fighter pilot or a physicist by now. The reality is he still can’t tie his shoelaces.
But I believe that play is hugely important to kids’ development, and games are brilliant for that. They can teach us problem-solving, how to cooperate, and how to lose. From games, we learn that it’s possible to come back from failure; that we can achieve our objectives if we keep practising to improve our skills (or in my case, ask a ten-year-old to show us how to do a sliding tackle in FIFA.)
And these days, many games offer huge scope for creativity, giving kids the freedom to bring whatever their imagination can come up with to life in digital form.
The joys of playing together
All of which is great, of course. But I think there is one key point that sometimes gets overlooked, despite the fact it seems pretty obvious: video games are fun. They are a great way for kids to channel their energy, release stress, gain a sense of achievement, and have a good laugh.
Even if you’re not a gamer yourself, I’d urge you to get involved. Ask your kids what they’re playing, and if you can join in. Yes, they might roll their eyes a bit, but they might secretly quite like the chance to show off their skills, and teach you a thing or two. Who knows? Could turn out you’re a natural, and then you have a whole new way to spend time together. Or could be you’re totally rubbish, in which case you can all have a good laugh about how terrible you are.
So go on, why not give gaming a go? You have nothing to lose but the respect of your children, and if your family’s anything like mine, that went a long time ago anyway. Good luck!
For more information about how to approach gaming responsibly as a family, visit internetmatters.org/playtogetherplaysmart.