Teens and Video Games: What Parents Should Keep in Mind?

When I grew up, I had breakfast in the morning, and then spent most of the rest of my days away from school playing outside with my siblings and other neighborhood kids. We took the occasional water or lunch break, but for the most part did not come home again until it was time to eat dinner. Not so today. Children have their own personal computers in their rooms. They are part of an international community of web communicators. They routinely ‘talk’ to people all over the world. And they have the skills to participate in complex and involved computer video games that you and I never dreamed of .

The video games I remember as a kid were pretty much limited to Pac-man and Tetris! These were sort of animated versions of other gaming activities that already existed. Not so today! Today, your children can, at the click of a mouse, access games which defy the imagination and may well cause considerable consternation in parents. They can also buy video games anywhere which are far more sophisticated than anything any of us have ever imagined would be available commercially.

Further, it has recently come to light that some of these games contain hidden features of which even the most conscientious parents were completely unaware, and which are patently inappropriate for their children. So how do you deal with teens and video games? Some parents believe that allowing their children unlimited computer access will provide them with needed skills to succeed at school and in the workplace. Like most every other blanket statement, this one has some truth and some problems. Your child needs to learn to interact with others to succeed in school and in the workplace. He is not doing that spending hours alone in his room. Your child DOES need to be completely comfortable with the on-line world. But that can be achieved in school computer time, and in the occasional home experience with a shared personal computer in a public part of the house.

Years ago, there was a movie about a young boy who had become so accomplished at computer games that he was recruited by those defending our planet to fight off invading alien craft. Fantasy is wonderful. But I’m betting your child will not be recruited to destroy alien craft. There is a limit to the usefulness of video games, and a considerable risk to the over-use of them. Your child’s time is better spent in learning computer programs that are used in the workplace. Away from the computer, your child is better served in learning how to interact, face to face, with others. So what if your teenager and his friends spend all their time in front of a computer screen, immersed in Video games.

What’s the problem? I would say that the problem is balance. There is no problem with your teen being a computer expert. Frankly, I have many friends who rely on their kids for computer advice and expertise! What is a problem is when your teenager becomes so immersed in the Video Game world that he neglects other aspects of his healthy development. There is simply no substitute for face-to-face interaction. There is no substitute for working out issues with others. There is no substitute for learning about how others think. In short, there is no substitute for functioning in the real world. If you are the parent of a computer wizard, great! But make sure that wizard has the coping and interpersonal and problem-solving skills to succeed without a mouse or joy-stick in hand. You will not regret the decision to move your child toward a more well-rounded approach to his environment.

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