As you can read on different parts of this site, we have made the choice to go game free in our home. After 10 years of parenting through gaming overuse problems, my husband and I decided to pull the plug with our younger children and try life without video games for a season to get it back under control. What we didn’t realize at the time (almost 4 years ago) was the degree of difference that this single decision would make and how it would deeply change the dynamics of our family connection.
So what does this really mean?
While I don’t think that every home needs to be game free, I do believe that this can be a great solution:
- for large or busy families when mom doesn’t have time to manage the games successfully.
- for very small families where an only child will naturally be drawn to games for entertainment.
- for families who have had a past history of overuse problems or conflict around gaming.
Managing your child’s video game activity on a handheld or other computer especially with internet access, is very challenging. In order to properly oversee and monitor them mom must be on her toes at all time. I say mom because dad is usually at work when a lot of the playing is going on especially with younger kids. Teens are more apt to play at night and after the house has gone to bed.
It is hard for mom to manage it all because now there are devices in the car, in their child’s bedrooms, in the basement and in their lunch boxes and pockets. It is very hard for mom to be all those places at once. There is content to worry about with violence and inappropriate moral themes, porn pop ups, unknown far away digital “friends” not to mention undone school work and chores and dropping out of sports and other activities because of the strong gaming draw. There is the tendency to let the time limit rules slip because mom gets busy and with four children and with one kitchen timer it can be tricky…and face it mom, games are a cheap babysitter. It is also hard for mom to say no to the only child who is lonely and is begging for more play, after all it is not healthy for mom to be the playmate. There are arguments to be had over: who can play when and for how long and “he played more than me yesterday” arguments. Not to mention the 6 o’clock meltdowns when the gaming urge seems to be at its peak and one more level must be had when dinner is on the table. We learned that when video games are always a background option, regardless of strict time limits, kids still structure their free time around when they can play and aren’t as creative with other non-gaming choices. The stress and conflict was controlling our lives and it was all too much for me to handle so, I did some reading a some research and praying and we got rid of the games all together.
At first it was a little strange to go so counter culture but it took only a few days to realize that the right decision was made for us. It really was. Our boys started cashing in their gaming hours for really fun things! The disconnecting of the games was necessary for us to make way for another world of reconnecting. They started reading a lot and playing outside more. They played with Legos and did puzzles and really learned how to ride their bike well. They started collecting baseball cards and football cards and non-digital friends and … rocks from outside. We started playing more board games together and doing more art. We started a Summer Art Camp for boys outside in our backyard. They seemed so much happier and dirtier and more carefree like a huge stress was removed from their lives as they reconnected to nature, to God, to their siblings and very importantly, to themselves. They can be alone and I rarely hear “Mom what can I do, I’m bored.” anymore. They have been re-trained and re-wired to be in charge of their free time. I started parenting differently. I was happier too and started talking to them more and thinking of fun simple things to do with our after school day hours and weekends. For me the gaming hours were cashed in for a more peaceful home for my boys, and their gaming hours were cashed in for more creativity and time in nature. One big change I noticed was that we talked more face to face and eye to eye and we had more time and were all becoming more connected to each other as a family. They weren’t the only ones making adjustments; I had to close my laptop and put my phone on silent for it to really work. Is it perfect? No. But life had taken a turn for the better for sure and we are perfectly happier.
I started sharing my ideas with families in our community as other parents were struggling with the same gaming issues and conflicts. I did research on the medical side of things and learned that brain chemicals were released when they played; gaming was a drug. Of course I was not surprised by any of this as I have seen, like most moms, that familiar “game coma” look brought on by too much gaming. As other families have gone game free they share similar stories of how they are actually talking to their kids more and seeing creative sides that they didn’t know existed. Playing with forgotten toys and building forts outside and having “no parents allowed” hangouts is all part of the childhood their kids were missing. They are busy discovering the unlimited childhood things they should be discovering right now. And it is an unlimited list of fun non-tech things to do. There is a perfect window of opportunity for exploring childhood and learning how to play real 3D play: it is called childhood. Electronic games can wait but their childhood development can’t.
We are not against technology. We have a TV and we watch movies together. My husband and I have smart phones but our children do not. We are not anti-technology or anti-media at all. We believe that we needed to do a better job of protecting our children’s childhood when they are young. When they are in middle school we will guide them well through computers. Before they go to college we will equip them to manage the world of adult technology and handle it on their own. But our younger children do not need to be equipped for the adult digital world playing with a gamer from China, instead they need to be out in our backyard digging to China and catching real 3D bugs. Balance is the key to understanding how to parent through this issue but the key is that we need to balance them in their world not try to balance them in ours.
We went game free three years ago and we have enjoyed so many different things. Are we judgmental of others who allow gaming? Absolutely not. Only you know what is best for your family. Are we the perfect parents with the perfect kids? Absolutely not! This is what works for us. Will our boys go crazy in college when they can have all the games they want? I don’t think so as they will be involved in many other activities on campus, activities that they learned to love while they were home.
Childhood is a gift. Protect it, guide them then equip them to be successful. Ultimately children want your love and your time. The next time you are about to hand your child a handheld device try taking their little hand in yours instead and go for a walk in the woods or just around the block after dinner. Or better yet, go have dinner out in the back yard away from the phones, TVs and laptops just for 30 minutes. I’ll bet they will be happy to trade their games for that evening.
If you feel comfortable with managing gaming in your home be sure to keep up with the ratings and content and time limits. If you feel that gaming has gotten out of balance in your home try going game free. It is worth a try and you have plenty of others like us who have walked through the game free home door and are loving every wonderful minute of it!
© Melanie Hempe, 2016, Families Managing Media. All Rights Reserved.