Today one of the girls at SheBrisbane came across a guide for parents by Michelle Ransom-Hughes of the ABC on ‘How to talk to your teens about computer games’.
Michelle talks about how her son spent the long weeks of last year’s summer holidays bunkered in his room — mastering foreign domains, roaming landscapes full of gunfire and explosions, fighting alongside teammates with American accents.
“Through talking in an intentional way about his gaming, I won a deeper understanding of my son, and, to a degree that respects his privacy, we restored the open communication we had when he was younger. The process was a great relief to both of us,” she said.
For anyone feeling a million miles from the digital world of their gamer kids, Michelle urges you to start talking with them and shares her tips on how to do so…
1. Convince your child you’re interested
If in the past you’ve mostly referred to their favourite hobby as a pointless waste of time, you may need to open with a mea culpa.
Then, explain that you genuinely want to find out about what they’re playing — and make a date with them for a conversation.
2. Make them the expert
For young people, one of computer gaming’s major appeals is the sense of agency they have in their on-screen lives.
They get to trial an independence that’s barely, if ever, present in reality. Each time they play, even the youngest child is questing, decision-making and accruing experience.
Let them bring that authority into your relationship for a while. Allow them to be the expert in this thing that matters to them, while you ask the dumb questions.
3. Shut up and listen
Remember when they were learning to walk? Learning to play violin, ride a bike, or do that dance? You paid so much attention, your eyes could have burst. Give them a bit of that again.
At first what you’re hearing may be about as interesting as your uncle’s account of his latest surgery, but keep listening, and keep asking questions.
4. Look for the buzz
When your kid is describing something that gives them a buzz, go with it: get them to tell you the best fun they ever had in that game, the highest score, the best rank.
If something makes your child this proud and happy, you want to know about it, right? Whatever you do, try not to mock.
Listen out for what they define as achievements, and try acknowledging or praising them in the same way you would with any other hobby.
5. Don’t panic
Digital natives are constantly being lectured about cyber safety, at school and elsewhere. They think they’re all over it, and that you can’t tell them anything, so you may as well acknowledge this situation out loud.
You might also want to remind them it’s your job to help them stay safe, and see if you can’t find a balance between responsible parenting and being a total buzzkill.
Agree on limits around protecting privacy together. Go over your family’s baseline rules for being a decent human and socialising with others. These should apply in virtual interactions as much as in real life.
Then agree to trust your gamer to manage themselves online and come to you if there’s a problem. Make it clear it’s your job to intervene when necessary.
For all the cautionary tales of grooming and bullying, I’m willing to bet there are many more kids making real online friends, and finding social confidence and capital they don’t have in the schoolyard.
And the less you panic about this stuff when you have these early conversations, the easier it is for them to come to you if things get weird.