Parents, Get Your Game On!
Why playing video games with your kids is good for development.
Posted June 29, 2020
This post was written by Pamela Love, an undergraduate at BYU, with help from Sarah Coyne, a professor at BYU.
“Mom! I know what I’m going to do with my money,” my son excitedly exclaimed a month into the COVID-19 pandemic: “Buy new Wii-remotes!”
Our family had been living Wii-less for over a year since our old remotes stopped working, and other activities replaced our video game habits. Having spent the last month in social isolation, he was looking for any and all activities to fill our now-abundant family time. Although video games have gotten a bad rap over the years with warnings about too much screen time[i], and parents duly concerned about their association with violence[ii], playing video games together as a family can actually be a great way to improve family connection and relationships.[iii] And research shows that we parents have a significant influence on how video gaming impacts our children.[iv]
Despite my son’s excitement about adding video games back into our family’s leisure repertoire, I soon became concerned that he was spending too much playing with his new COVID-19 friend: 8 Ball Pool. So, my husband and I did what many parents do to mediate their children’s media use:[v]
First, we set up some time limits for the pool game on our phones and tablets. Enforcing restrictions is one of several ways parents typically influence their children’s use of video games. However, research shows that children tend to better adhere to the restrictions when they are also given some autonomy within the rules.[vi] Parents who are overly-controlling with media restrictions often sadly find that this approach can backfire and create the negative outcomes they most fear: more time spent gaming, more aggression and risky behavior, and even more sexual involvement.[vii] Mixing restrictions with other forms of mediation can help parents balance their desire to protect their children from the negative outcomes of media with their children’s need for autonomy.[viii]
Talking About It
Respectfully talking about the pluses and minuses of playing a particular game with a child is another way parents can guide children to make healthier media choices.[ix] My husband and I had already determined that pool was a fairly benign use of screen time for our son and might even enhance his cognitive skills,[x] but we also noticed increasing emotional highs and lows following his wins and losses. So, we casually discussed this observation with him, raising his awareness of the benefits and downsides of playing the game. We positively framed it as an opportunity for him to practice his emotional regulation skills and reminded him of it when the stakes were high.
Finally, I tried the third type of mediation, something my husband had done many times: playing pool with our son. I am happy to report that this is my favorite form of mediation. My son loved playing the game together, and I found that pool was fun—even though I was not as good at it as he was. (Maybe that’s why he loved it so much?) Most importantly, it strengthened our relationship.[xi] In fact, researchers have found that parents who join their children in playing video games can even lessen the negative impact of violent video games on their children.[xii]
This mixed approach to mediating our son’s video gaming was a great personal case study in the positive effects of parental involvement in children’s media, confirming to us that we can turn media use from a negative drain on our children to a positive boost in family functioning.[xiii] While many parents have already discovered the happy results of reading books and watching TV together as a family, not as many have tapped into the positives of playing video games together.[xiv] Yet, the American Academy of Pediatrics highly recommends that parents participate in media with their children, and the gaming industry has followed suit in encouraging co-gaming to “foster family harmony.”[xv]
Research confirms that parents who play video games with their children not only improve their parent-child relationships but also help their children individually. One study showed that girls who played video games with their parents had less depression and anxiety as well as less aggression, although boys were not impacted positively or negatively by playing video games with their parents in this study.[xvi] This might be because parents typically play more violent video games with their sons.
Since boys also tend to play more video games in general than girls do, and the amount of time parents spend playing video games is about the same with their sons as with their daughters, parents might need to play more video games with their sons to observe a positive impact. I noticed a boost in my relationship with my son after only a few games of 8 Ball Pool together—but he doesn’t play violent video games, and his total gaming time is only about an hour a day.
Almost 20 years ago, researchers Zabriskie and McCormick suggested that “besides family crisis, shared leisure may be one of the few experiences that bring family members together for any significant amount of time today.”[xvii] The unique combination of family crisis and family leisure my family faced during the COVID-19 pandemic provided us with more time and myriad opportunities to strengthen our family relationships—including playing video games together. In the end, my son used his money to purchase a scooter to spend more time outside this summer, which I thought was a very healthy choice, but we still play 8 Ball Pool together—and we added Wii-remotes to our Christmas wish list!
[i] Domingues‐Montanari, S. (2017). Clinical and psychological effects of excessive screen time on children. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 53(4), 333-338. doi:10.1111/jpc.13462
[ii] Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B. J., Sakamoto, A., ... & Saleem, M. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 151. doi:10.1037/a0018251
[iii] Wang, B., Taylor, L., & Sun, Q. (2018). Families that play together stay together: Investigating family bonding through video games. New Media & Society, 20(11), 4074-4094. doi:10.1177/1461444818767667
[iv] Fikkers, K. M., Piotrowski, J. T., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2017). A matter of style? Exploring the effects of parental mediation styles on early adolescents’ media violence exposure and aggression. Computers in Human Behavior, 70, 407-415. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.01.029
[v] Collier, K. M., Coyne, S. M., Rasmussen, E. E., Hawkins, A. J., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Erickson, S. E., & Memmott-Elison, M. K. (2016). Does parental mediation of media influence child outcomes? A meta-analysis on media time, aggression, substance use, and sexual behavior. Developmental Psychology, 52(5), 798-812. doi:10.1037/dev0000108
[vi] Padilla-Walker, L. M., Stockdale, L. A., & McLean, R. D. (2019). Associations between parental media monitoring, media use, and internalizing symptoms during adolescence. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/ppm0000256
[vii] Collier, K. M., Coyne, S. M., Rasmussen, E. E., Hawkins, A. J., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Erickson, S. E., & Memmott-Elison, M. K. (2016). Does parental mediation of media influence child outcomes? A meta-analysis on media time, aggression, substance use, and sexual behavior. Developmental Psychology, 52(5), 798-812. doi:10.1037/dev0000108
[viii] Padilla-Walker, L. M., Coyne, S. M., Kroff, S. L., & Memmott-Elison, M. K. (2018). The protective role of parental media monitoring style from early to late adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 47(2), 445-459. doi:10.1007/s10964-017-0722-4
[ix] Collier, K. M., Coyne, S. M., Rasmussen, E. E., Hawkins, A. J., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Erickson, S. E., & Memmott-Elison, M. K. (2016). Does parental mediation of media influence child outcomes? A meta-analysis on media time, aggression, substance use, and sexual behavior. Developmental Psychology, 52(5), 798-812. doi:10.1037/dev0000108
[x] Flynn, R. M., & Richert, R. A. (2018). Cognitive, not physical, engagement in video gaming influences executive functioning. Journal of Cognition and Development, 19(1), 1-20. doi:10.1080/15248372.2017.1419246
[xi] Sheffield, A., & Lin, L. (2013). Strengthening parent-child relationships through co-playing video games. International Association for Development of the Information Society, 429-431.
[xii] Walker, D., Brocato, E. D., Carlson, L., & Laczniak, R. N. (2018). Parents’ and children’s violent gameplay: role of co-playing. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 35(6), 623-632. doi:10.1108/JCM-10-2017-2397
[xiii] Hodge, C. J., Zabriskie, R. B., Fellingham, G. Coyne, S., Lundberg, N. R., Padilla-Walker, L. M., & R. D. Day, (2017). The relationship between media in the home and family functioning in context of leisure. Journal of Leisure Research, 44(3), 285-307. doi:10.1080/00222216.2012.11950266
[xiv] Connell, S. L., Lauricella, A. R., & Wartella, E. (2015). Parental Co-use of media technology with their young children in the USA. Journal of Children and Media, 9(1), 5-21. doi:10.1080/17482798.2015.997440
[xv] American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). Policy statement on children, adolescents, and the media. Pediatrics, 132(5), 957–961. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-2656
Chambers, D. (2012). “Wii play as a family”: The rise in family-centred video gaming. Leisure Studies, 31(1), 69-82. doi:10.1080/02614367.2011.568065, p. 69.
[xvi] Coyne, S. M., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Stockdale, L. & Day, R. D. (2011). Game on. . . girls: Associations between co-playing video games and adolescent behavioral and family outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 49(2), 160-165. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.11.249
[xvii] Zabriskie, R. B., & McCormick, B. P. (2001). The influences of family leisure patterns on perceptions of family functioning. Family Relations, 50(3), 281-289, p. 287.