Side note: This article is written with the assumption that we all know that there is no option to ignore academics. Our children will need help with their homework and we have to help them as best as we can.
“I don’t know.”
These are the last words you want your child to hear you say. I’m not saying that parents need to know everything, and I’m certainly not suggesting that parents should lie. But, it is important that we have some kind of an answer to their questions.
We here at Engaged Family Gaming believe in fostering a family culture where people share interests, even if they might not be mutual. This means, for example, sports-minded dads learning about superheroes and professional super moms learning about Minecraft.
This is especially true for things that our children are interested in. Children may be flighty, but they wouldn’t waste time asking us questions if they didn’t care. They can become deeply interested in their games and the fictional worlds that they reside in. It is inevitable that they will ask questions of their universal authority: us.
Obviously, it isn’t reasonable for me to ask parents to dedicate all of their free time following their children’s interests and becoming “experts.” I also know that a lot of parents have no real interest in video games at all. But, if you think about it, we all learn about baseball when they play little league whether we like it or not. Video games aren’t any different.
The bottom line: parents need to at least demonstrate a willingness to help find the answers to their children’s questions. “I don’t know” just isn’t a very good option. There is a huge amount of information available on just about every topic on the internet and showing a willingness to help them find a childs answers will go a long way.
I know what some of you might be saying:
“Why? This is kid’s stuff right? We don’t need to know anything else about the games our kids play aside from whether it is appropriate for them. Right?”
Well… no. Not really. Here are three of the reasons why:
As soon as you hand your child a controller you are creating a fan. Fans love to connect with each other and talk about the things they love, and the first person your little fan will want to talk about these things with is you. If they can’t, then the only source of real discussion about their games will be other children. This robs games of their potential enrichment because most children aren’t able to think critically about games. If they don’t learn to talk about games with anyone other than children this can hurt their ability to participate meaningfully in the hobby as they get older. This might sound like a small problem, but as gaming grows so to does its importance in everyday life. It is not hard to imagine video game communities and online gaming experiences to be the golf courses of the future where huge business deals are made.
Credibility is important here too. Children spend a lot of time asking their parents questions. We can’t just stonewall them and refuse to answer because it risks stifling their natural curiosity. These questions will naturally revolve around their interests. They don’t necessarily see a difference between Star Wars and Geography or between Pokemon and Biology. Imagine the potential damage that might be done if the answer to all of their questions is “I don’t know.” This is a credibility killer and might cause them to question your knowledge on other subjects as well. (It bears repeating: Not knowing is OK as long as you help them find the answer).
Lastly, and most importantly, you will only have so many opportunities over the course of your children’s lives to truly connect with them. We simply cannot afford to let any of them pass us by. Engaging in your child’s interests is one of those opportunities. This also presents an opportunity where less savvy parents can interact with their children as peers. You have been riding a bike for decades, and doing math for even longer; you and your child might both be playing your first Pokemon game. There is something to be said about letting them teach you (but that’s a whole other topic for another day).
We will all find our own reasons, but at the end of the day it is up to us to make sure that our children know where to turn when they have questions. Because, if they can’t turn to us about Pikachu and Yoda how can we expect them to turn to us for things that “really” matter?