By Dana Spencer
This blog post is not an endorsement of a particular video game or genre of video games; rather, it is shared here to promote a thoughtful discussion. As children grow and individuate they begin to challenge our values and our ideas, which is a natural part of their development. When it comes to technology, that growth seems to be happening at an earlier age all the time. As PEP teaches in its screen time workshops, conversations with our children about these devices, games, and platforms aren’t a one-time occurrence but rather a series of conversations. In this blog, a PEP parent educator shares how her perspective has changed. Here at PEP we: 1) encourage parents to research with their children the video games, web sites, apps, etc. that their children engage with to fully understand their content; 2) encourage every family to determine what works for their household, and we advise each family to set their own limits around family life and technology; 3) strongly encourage every family to have meaningful conversations on challenging subjects such as screen time and video games. It is in the discussions where growth occurs, connections are made and values are shaped.
Summer is upon us and I’m thinking about parenting and screen time. Because of my PEP training, I encourage my boys to take charge of virtually every aspect of their lives. I do so to enable them to become independent and capable adults and to allow them to listen to their own internal voices and learn to make good choices. For me, “screens” has been the hardest place to cede control.
I just finished reading Anya Kamanentz’s book The Art of Screen Time. My takeaway from her writing is that we, as parents, need to rewrite our fears in order to embrace the good things technology brings to our lives — to get involved, ask questions of our kids, and encourage balance, but get away from trying to control so much. As such, I am newly determined to see more clearly what my kids are gaining from their screen experiences.
Fortnite is the rage at my home right now. For those of you unfamiliar, I liken Fortnite Battle Royale to paintball meets a softer version of the Hunger Games. One hundred players are dropped on an island to battle it out to be the sole survivor(s). A player that is hit either “dies” meaning he simply disappears from the game or he crawls along until his teammates revive him. There is a strategy component for sure, and opportunities to build alliances and friendships abound.
In my home, there is a queue for the PS4 on the weekends as the boys negotiate based on when their friends are available and who can move to a later time to accommodate the other. Through this, they are learning negotiation skills, how to give and take. My middle used his own money to purchase a headset to communicate during team play with his friends. My youngest phones his besties to play together. The days of having friends over to shoot hoops in the driveway have morphed into something unfamiliar to me, but likely no less valuable.
Even as I learn to embrace the good of technology, we will maintain our family’s agreed-upon screen time limits. I will continue to encourage good sleep with WiFi shutdowns during sleeping hours. Content is expected to be appropriate as determined by our family. Life balance and good judgment, albeit open to interpretation, are expected. Respect for others’ accounts and avatars is required. I will continue to give heads-up warnings regarding transitions such as dinnertime, and I will be patient when the game ends up being more successful than anticipated and goes over their original time estimate. I will be understanding that my kids are doing the important work of play, even as it looks foreign to me.
On Saturday night I heard our 15-year-old laughing and joking with his friends as they worked together virtually to complete whatever mission it was they set out to accomplish on Fortnite. I thought to myself, he’s having a great time, there’s no mess to clean up, there’s no one to drive home, he’s safe and available, (unlike texting) I can hear his interaction with his friends so I have some idea what his relationship is with them … this is a good thing for me, too.