How Video Games Made Me a Better Parent & Teacher

Tips & questions to help with the video gamer in your home!For most of my adult, teaching life, I have strongly opposed video games.  They are violent.  They keep children sedentary.  They foster insensitivity.  Anyone with me in this fight?

But what if I told you that video games could be helping your child become a better person?  What if I told you that video games might even help you become a better parent or teacher?

Three years ago, I got a step-son who lives for fast internet and all-night playing.  Since knowing Drew, I have slid in comments here and there about the negative effects of video games.  I think I assumed my comments would trigger his hormonal, irrational mind into thinking – Wow.  She is so smart. (This didn’t happen.)

Recently, though, as an ELA teacher teaching persuasive writing, I was trying to find a topic that my students cared about and had different points of view.

I read on Tim Elmore’s blog that statistics show that 41% of Gen Z spends 3 or more hours a day on a screen for non-schoolwork related activities. (Source: http://www.growingleaders.com )

That’s a lot of screen time, much of which is on video games.

So I decided to write a “letter” asking the principal to allow video games in school.  (Imagine the roar of the crowd as I say this.) This is how you gain points with students and get them to buy-in to what you’re selling.

I was shocked with what I learned.  I not only discovered that kids could learn “soft skills” valued in the workplace, but I discovered how I could be a better parent to Drew and be a better teacher.

At first, as I began my writing, I sat there and literally thought “Nothing.  Nothing good comes from video games.”  But I knew this wasn’t true.  Nor was that making a good letter.

So I put myself in Drew’s (and many others) shoes.  And after being uncomfortable in their shoes for a while, these are some of the things that I discovered they are learning as they play.  (problem-solving, collaboration, focus, and perseverance)

  1. Video games challenge their brains. There is a lot of action going on in those games.  Gamers must think through decisions and problem solve.  There are other players moving in real time.  The players are learning to work as a team and collaborate.
  2. Video games engage children. Therefore, it cuts down on misbehaving in classrooms (and in homes).  Children & teens want to be engaged.  They want their brains to be focused and challenged.  When they are, they don’t think about snacks, water breaks, or how many students they can make laugh. They are trying to win.
  3. Video games teach perseverance. They play.  They lose.  They play again.  The cycle continues as they get better and better and work towards winning.  It’s something we appreciate in athletes and mathletes.  We should appreciate it in gamers too.
How do these things make me a better parent and/or teacher?

I realized the value of putting myself in my teen’s shoes for a moment.

First, I stopped focusing on my crusade against video games, and I decided to view it from Drew’s perspective.  Because I did that, I connected with him and his passion.  He and I won’t be on opposing teams any longer.  At least the video game one.

Second, putting myself in his shoes taught me more about him, more about how God created him, and more about how I can build a relationship with him.

Think about what it would do for the relationship between you and your teen, tween, or even your significant other.  You will find yourself more frequently on the same team than opposing ones.

Third, as a teacher, I reflected on those three things that captivate my students.  They want to be challenged.  They want to be engaged.  They want to persevere and win.

It’s my job as an educator to help facilitate that each day in the classroom.  Misbehaving students aren’t always my fault, but when I have misbehaving students, I must stop and reflect.  Are the students engaged?  Are they feeling challenged, but not defeated?  Are they learning to persevere so they can win?

As a parent, I need to stop and reflect.  It’s so easy to think our kids are acting crazy/disrespectful/fill-in-the-blank and not see the situation from their perspective.

Real-Life Blended Family Moment: there was a day that my husband kept asking Drew to ask his mom this and ask his mom that.  With each question, I could see Drew shutting down and getting frustrated.  Then he snapped and was rude to his father.

I do not excuse his disrespect, as I believe we have to teach that other people do not control our behaviors.

However, at that moment, I could see the situation from his point-of-view.  It was uncomfortable for him on many levels.

I spoke up and said something along the lines of…I know you don’t like being the middle man between your mom and dad.  That puts you in a tough spot, doesn’t it?  (He nodded.)  How about in the future, if we need to find out something from your mom, we’ll try to call her ourselves?  (He nodded again.  His chest gave way to breath.)

Crisis over.  We’re on Team Drew.

Next time you and your student/teen/child are on opposing teams, I encourage you to look at it from their perspective and dig deeper.  Ask yourself these three questions. 
  1. What can you learn about them?
  2. What can you learn about the situation?
  3. What can you learn about yourself?

Truthfully, I may not ever fully get on “Team Video Games”.  But I always want Drew to know I am on “Team Drew”.