This post is part of a series delving into “Mainstream Mantras,” peeling back the layers to discover where they go awry.
The public outcry against violence in the media isn’t new. It started with violence in movies and TV, and in the last twenty-odd years has grown to include video games. Yet not everyone is swayed. There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding studies linking video game playing and violence, from how aggression is measured to how the results are interpreted. And in my own family’s experience, and from the video game experiences I’ve seen shared over the last decade by countless other unschooling families, aggressive behaviour and/or acts of violence are not a foregone result of playing lots of video games.
So why the supposed correlation?
Because the majority of children now play video games, chances are an aggressive child plays them. If an issue arises with any child, it’s very likely that they’ve played video games, so when you look at their activities you’ll find them.
But let’s take that a step further.
If we assume it’s true that violent video game playing causes increased aggression and violence, since the majority of children are now playing violent video games, shouldn’t the amount of violence committed by children be rising? That’s the cause and effect relationship being put forth. But it’s not.
In fact, according to the CDC, the US youth homicide rates have dropped by about 50% since 1994, as have youth violent crime arrests since 1995. Youth non-fatal assault injury rates have also dropped since 2001, though not as dramatically. Any way you slice it, over the last decade and change, youth violence has dropped against a backdrop of a dramatic rise in youth playing violent video games.
Yay? Absolutely, but that’s not really the point, is it?
As unschooling parents, the stats are nice to know as part of the bigger picture, but they don’t define the children in front of you: they are what’s important. However your children are choosing to spend their time, what really matters is their lives. Pay attention. What does their world look like to them?
When you see their activities through their eyes, you will know why they are making the choices they do. For example, my eldest has always played a lot of video games. By spending time with him, by chatting with him often, I knew what he was getting out of the experience. And it wasn’t a desensitized and violent outlook on life. For him, it was immersion in stories. What is it for your gaming child?
Not sure? Let’s talk about a few ways you can support your child’s interest in video games. Ways you can discover the person your child is, not who the statistics or society’s fears say he or she will become.
As in all things parenting, it’s about connecting with your children. And staying connected.
What are some ways you can connect through video games?
Watch them play
This is a wonderful way to connect! What’s the game about? What are they trying to do? Watch their minds in action as they solve puzzles, strategize battles, read maps, and use game currency. Cheer with them as they complete levels, commiserate with them as they try things again and again. Don’t belittle the games or their efforts. Don’t watch with an eye to moving them to another activity. Be there with them. See what they see. Revel in their joy.
Next step—help them! Now that you have an idea of what the game is about, what are they finding challenging? Look up a guide or three online. Can’t figure out how to beat that boss? Do a bit of research and share with your child strategies that other people have used. Did you see a heart piece in the corner of the screen? Point it out. Help them accomplish what they’re trying to do.
Now that you’ve seen the fun of playing, and you’ve gotten familiar with some of the game’s layout and strategies, try it! Your child will probably love helping you out. It’s not as easy as it looks, is it? You’ll probably been even more impressed with your child’s skills. I know I was. Maybe you’ll have found a wonderful activity to share with your children—I know quite a few unschooling parents who’ve thoroughly enjoyed World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy and Minecraft with their kids! Personally, my speed is more along the lines of Phoenix Wright, Animal Crossing, and Mario Party. Just this morning my eldest made a point to tell me that the newest Phoenix Wright game is out now. Care, consideration, and connection.
If you don’t enjoy playing, that’s okay too. You can still enjoy spending time with them, enjoy being able to understand enough to participate in conversations. You can still connect with them over video games in other ways.
Bring interesting and related things to them
So where do things stand now? Chances are, you’re beginning to understand what they’re talking about when they share their latest accomplishment and you can celebrate with them! You see how much they’re learning as they play. And you understand why they enjoy playing. The shining joy in their eyes makes your eyes light up too. 🙂
I bet now you’ll start to notice connections to the games they’re playing as you go about your day, interesting and related things that you can bring to your children that they will enjoy and that will connect and expand their worlds: that Minecraft t-shirt you brought home last week and they’ve worn most days since; that online article detailing Animal Crossing holidays; the wiki you found about the roots of the made-up language used in their favourite game; a surprise subscription to a gaming magazine; a CD of their favourite game music; an online database of Pokemon stats; the forum you discover where they read voraciously for a while and eventually start posting.
No matter the topic—video games, TV, hockey, dinosaurs—when you build strong and connected relationships with your children, you are showing through your actions that you care about and support them. They will feel more comfortable coming to you for help when they are feeling frustrated or angry. You will notice when things get challenging, and be comfortable approaching them to share your observations, your experience, and your love and support.
I think much of society’s challenges with youth behaviour stems from a deep disconnect between parents and their children.
Unschooling parents are choosing to do things differently.