My son is lost to the outside world once he starts playing video games. His mother may have to call him 3 or 4 times before the sound of her voice punches through the haze of virtual reality where he is energetically scaling digital walls or racing down silicon highways in his purple and yellow Ferrari.
I should make something clear before continuing with this article. I like video games. I think they are a fun and entertaining past time and depending on the game they may actually provide some benefits to our kids. But, only in moderation and more importantly, when they are played. We have a one hour screen time rule in our house (for the kids anyway) and while my wife and I are guilty of being indulgent parents occasionally we do our best to limit the amount of time our kids spend in front of the TV, handheld games and computer.
To some extent though, the bigger issue is when the games are played. I prefer the one hour our children are allotted to be used at home, after the homework is finished and when my wife or I are around. This gives us more control over what is played or watched and even allows us to interact with our kids while they play (even if we have to talk louder to drown out the game noises).
One of our goals as parents is to raise our kids to be socially adept. Along with the pleasure this skill will give to our kids and the people they interact with throughout their lives, it is also critical in their job search. Time and again I see employers make hiring decisions on what they refer to as "chemistry" rather than the hard details of a resume. Chemistry, in case you were wondering, is hiring manager code for "I just liked him better".
In order to help our kids develop this important skill set, I have become decidedly less enthusiastic about anything with a screen attached once we leave the house. If we head out as a family for dinner or a trip to Costco it becomes a valuable opportunity to interact with our kids and to set an example of proper behavior in public. If my son is playing his game for the entire car ride then he will not hear a word my wife and I say nor will he join the conversation. The car is one of the few places these days where he cannot get away from us and as such it is a good spot to talk with him.
Restaurants are a fantastic location to work on manners, small talk, patience and of course, which fork to use and when. Allowing our kids to break out their Nintendo's as soon as they sit down eliminates any chance of small talk and does not force them to practice their patience. I know the temptation. You and your spouse would love to have a moment to chat about adult things without the interruptions (dragging the kids out from under the table) and whining about being hungry so you relent and gain some peace until the food arrives. I get it! We are not perfect either but we can try not to give in as often. Every positive experience is another brick in the foundation of our children's future career.
If (and hopefully when) you try to cut back on the external gaming you will find that it helps to be prepared to entertain. With the younger kids and occasionally with the older ones, I Spy is a simple and also play anywhere game that can help to take their young minds off of their growling stomachs. There are many other games that would work but just talking and more importantly, listening to your kids is the best. Be patient in order to get past the initial whining and you will be surprised at the conversations that develop.
Once your kids get comfortable with leaving the games at home, maybe Mom and Dad will leave their iPhones behind as well. Wouldn't that be something!