People often say that kids “don’t come with instructions”, and while I could argue that point (my first two are Navy brats and I was presented with a 800+ page manual when the first was born, and even my youngest came equipped with a stack of booklets), I’m willing to concede that becoming a parent is a lot like getting hired for a job for which we have little formal training. So what do you do? Well, most of us spend the first couple of years doing everything in our power just to keep them alive. Don’t believe me? You’ve probably never thought about it much, but think of all those vaccinations, the degree to which you’ve either baby-proofed your home or the numerous times that you’ve leapt across the family room to retrieve that older child’s too small toy from your toddler’s clutches, the “Don’t talk to strangers” talks, and the all-time favorite “Don’t do drugs”.
Taking care of our children’s health and well-being is a full time job, but nowadays, many people don’t treat it as such. I’m not here to spout the evils of letting the TV be your babysitter, not knowing who your tweens are hanging out with (though I will allude to something similar later on), or buying alcohol for your teenager. What I did break out my soap box for, however, is to talk to you about paying attention to what your kids are playing. Why? Because my name is Michele and I’m a gamer. A gamer that is REALLY tired of the bad rap that some games get when they “fall” into the hands of someone’s little darling!
Step 1: Listen to your kids
The next time that Darien asks you to buy that latest game, ask him a few questions. What is it about? What is it rated? Why do you want THAT game? Rather than intrusive (the earlier you start doing this the better – 12yos are easier to train than 16yos), you’ll be surprised to find out that your child would actually love to talk with you about their favorite hobby. You just might find out that you like it, too. Once you’ve gotten your answers (and if not jump online together), do your homework. Just because a game carries a particular rating, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a foregone yes or no for your kid. Trust me on this one. Your personal beliefs may take issue with the language demonstrated in a T title, or you could be like me, and have no problem with decapitating a clearly fictional creature with a sword. The point is it’s YOUR child – not MINE. You need to help your child make these decisions based on your own moral make-up. No one – not even the ESRB can do that for you.
Step 2: Watch your children
Once the two of you have done your homework and purchased that game, stick around. Not only might you discover that the two of you can have a lot of fun either taking turns or playing together, but you still need to play parent. I’m not saying hover, but I’ve always been a firm believer that gaming systems, and for the most part PCs connected to the Internet, belong in the family room and not in a child’s bedroom. You should do whatever works best for your own family, but keep a couple of things in mind. You may want to still check out the content in that game you purchased, and see if it’s in keeping with your personal values (some games can be tricky that way). In addition, you’ll want to keep an ear on who your child is playing with. We’ve all heard the horror stories about online predators, and sadly they’re real. Even if the person on the other end isn’t a predator and just a…well…typical 16yo boy, you still might want to keep tabs on the conversation. Grab a book, pick up knitting or actually take a spectator’s interest in the game. You’ll sleep better knowing what your darling daughter is up to.
Step 3: Talk to their friends’ parents
This is the tricky part. Be friendly, be open, and accept that offered cup of coffee. You don’t have to become best friends or even LIKE the parents of the kids yours play with, but you should at least know their names and have a general feel for what kind of people they are. Talk to them, find out what their kids play and do, and gently let them know what yours are and aren’t allowed to do. You’d want to know if they were the kind of people to leave a loaded gun lying around, wouldn’t you?
And that’s about it. I know, preaching to the choir, but what may seem like a no brainer to most of us, isn’t to the average mom you find trolling your local GameStop or Wal-Mart. Just trying to avoid the next CNN story about “Left 4 Dead 2 banned in Australia”, or “A Texas 10yo stole his mom’s car this morning”. I prefer writing about the fun side of gaming.
Okay, carry on! I’ll step down now…uh…can someone give me a hand…it’s kind of high up here.