Do children need to play computer games?

Posted by Samantha on August 12, 2012 in Parenting Dilemmas, Play |

Last week my irritation with screen-based computer games came to a head.  It’s not been the greatest summer weather-wise and poor weather always spells a more lenient attitude to screen-time in our house.

But what bothered me last week wasn’t the fact that my son and daughter play these games, but merely the fact that my son asked if he could play.

It bothered me because once he’d asked the question, then I had a dilemma: should I say yes or no?

I dearly wished that computer games didn’t exist because then my life (in that precise moment) would have been easier.  I wanted to abdicate my responsibility as a parent and blame the likes of Nintendo and Sony and especially the makers of Miniclip.com!

I said ‘No’ to screen-time that morning – the weather was good and it was the time of day when I KNOW that children need to burn off some physical energy (post-breakfast and pre-lunch in case you’re wondering).  Also, I’ve recently got in touch with this feeling of being a terrible parent if my children are indoors when it’s sunny outside – possibly that’s part of my heritage of growing up in Ireland!  So I said no.  But I was grumpy that I’d even been asked.

Then I started to mull over the fact that all behaviour is an attempt to meet a need.  What need were those annoying games meeting I wondered?

And very quickly it came to me.  The need for competency.  As an 8 year old boy, it is really important to my son that he has a sense of being able to do, what he needs to do in his world.  He thrives when he gets a sense of achievement, a sense of having attained some new skill.

Of course, from my adult perspective I know that greater competency at Fire Boy and Ice Girl isn’t really a transferable skill.  But suddenly I could let go of a lot of my irritation that had its roots in the judgement that “he shouldn’t want to play those games so much”.

I spent the next 24 hours thinking a lot more deeply about what I know about the effects of screen time on children’s developing minds and psyches.  I also attempted to balance this with my belief that I need to equip my children to live in the world as it really is, not as I imagine or wish it to be.  I thought of Sir Ken Robinson’s attitude towards modern technology and its role in education.  I thought about a friend of my sons, who at 9 years old can already produce his own graphic novels, movies, animations and music, using his iPad and various apps.  I watched that 9 year olds 18 month old brother proudly show me how HE could use his baby-apps.

I thought really hard about how I can allow my children access to all the good that computers have to offer whilst protecting them from the dross that is detrimental to them.  I came to the new and for me bizarre conclusion to lighten up on access to computers, but to change what my kids were using them for.

This is going to be a challenge for me because I’m not very interested in computers – except as they function as word-processors and encyclopaedias!  But I owe it to my kids to seek out the creative stuff that’s on offer and substitute that for the mindless gaming that I’ve been allowing albeit in limited doses.

For children between the ages of around 8 and 12 the need that takes priority over all others is the need to feel competent in the world.

If I want my son and daughter to spend less time playing computer games I’ve got to offer them alternative strategies to meet that need.

As my two like to say: simples!

Happy AND competent…no computer in sight…

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