Hilarie Cash, Ph.D.

Hilarie Cash Ph.D.

Digital Addiction

Calling All Parents: Think Before You Buy That Next Video Game Gift

How can parents "unplug" their holiday gift list?

Posted Nov 22, 2011

"Jingle Bells" the ring tone will be heard all across the malls of America this holiday season. According to the wireless association CTIA there are now more wireless devices than people in the United States. And while most children will have some type of digital toy, game or device on their wish list, here's hoping that parents will consider adding some non-electronic gifts to those lists.

As a family therapist I have worked with hundreds of adolescents, most of whom have all of the latest digital tech devices, software and games. What they don't have cannot be easily gift boxed and wrapped with a bow. However there are some gifts that can bring families a bit closer, material items that can encourage us all to turn towards one another for a little while. 

It is actually easy. I like to start with the individual who is receiving the gift. No need to spend hours thinking about it. Just ask. Ask your son or daughter for their holiday wish list, but with an added challenge. Their list can only contain one digital item. I often use this activity with my clients. Although their first response is often a blank stare, after a few moments of careful thought teens usually come up with some very insightful suggestions. Thirteen year old Elisabeth is a good example, a withdrawn girl who was quite angry at her parents. After some encouraging she was able to move past her blocks of "why bother?, "they won't care"," they never listen to me anyways" to  come up with a remarkable list that included activities (concert tickets, making a gingerbread house), experiences ("I want us all to eat vegan for one week", "I want Dad to teach me how to use his tools, and maybe build something with me"), and clothes that she was allowed to choose herself by going to some of her favorite on-line shopping sites.

For Elisabeth, who later agreed to share her "list" with her parents during a therapy session, the experience was quite valuable for her whole family. Imagine how meaningful it would have been if her parents had been the ones to initiate this gift list activity.

The bestselling video games are one-size fits all gift options. Angry Birds is expected to exceed one billion downloads. Modern Warfare 3 has made $775 million in sales in its opening 5 days. They appeal to the general public and make gift giving a cinch. They are also impersonal, cold and don't communicate love, depth or interest. Similar to the electronic rendition of "Jingle Bells". 

So this year, when your children give you their holiday list, take a moment to check it twice, offer a big hug and encourage them to make it personal.

Kim McDaniel is the co-author along with Hilarie Cash, of the book Video Games & Your Kids:  How Parents Stay in Control, (2008, Idyll Arbor Press). She is the mother of two and a licensed mental health counselor who has been in private practice in the Eastside/Seattle area since 1996.


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