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Families That Play Together, Stay Together: Activating the Positive Outcomes in Playing Video Games

Worried about the impact video games are having? Play them together to improve communication and problem-solving skills – all while having fun!

In the wake of the devastating events in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, video games have been criticized as a catalyst for violent behavior. Various news, psychology and tech outlets have already summarized research that demonstrates video games don't cause violent or criminal behavior. Findings also show that we stand to lose a lot by scapegoating or banning video games, including having happier, healthier families, improved attention control and focus, and increased empathy and altruistic behavior. Read on for suggestions on how to tap into those benefits.

Play video games together


Playing games together can have a profound impact on communication, closeness, and the physical and mental health of family members. One recent study,  found that “the more frequently family members play video games together, the better family satisfaction and family closeness they have.” If you’ve never played a video game with your kids (or on your own) before, start by dipping your toes in. The next time you notice your kid playing a game on their own, sit down next to them and just watch as they play. Then afterward, ask questions about the game about how it works, why they like playing it, what they’d like to learn or do better at in the game, etc. After you’ve watched ask your kid to teach you or ask to take the controller for a bit and give the game a try. If they are surprised or protect, firmly let them know you’re interested and want to have quality gaming time together. They’ll come around and might even be excited to teach you all they know!

Diversify your genre palate

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening - Announcement Trailer - Nintendo Switch

There are many different types of games and they all cultivate different skill sets. If you want to improve your child’s planning and problem-solving skills, encourage them to play role-playing games like the Zelda series (see above). Constructive play games like Minecraft give kids an opportunity to develop a better understanding of distance and space – and to express themselves creatively by building their own structures and even art. If you notice that your child is interested in a particular game genre, you can trade off who chooses the game you play together to introduce them to other types of games and help them build out a well-rounded skill set.

Set boundaries to create a foundation for learning

Determining boundaries for when and why you play video games as a family will make positive outcomes possible. For example, a well-researched and demonstrated negative effect of screen time on kids is the impact on quality and quantity of sleep (Kamenetz p. 23-24). Since sleep is fundamental to learning and emotional regulation, having a rule that everyone stops using electronic devices two hours before bedtime is going to help set your children up for success each day, and it’s easy to explain and (hopefully) enforce.

Anya Kamenetz, NPR’s lead digital education correspondent and author of The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life, emphasizes the importance of having structure in addition to being approachable and playing games together. She writes, “our role as mediator of media is not to smile at everything our kids may encounter, but to be a protective influence, model, share our values, and instill critical thought. And, where needed, balance. To do that, we need insight into what they’re doing and why.” (Kamenetz, p.90).

Whichever games you decide to play together, remember to model and encourage critical inquiry. Ask your children what they notice, why they make the decisions they make, and reflect together on what they’re learning. Unsure what questions to ask or which games to suggest? A great place to start is by reading Jordan Shapiro’s book The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World or perusing Games for Change’s feature games. The more families play games together, the better off we’ll all be – and it will certainly make quality time together fun and rewarding!


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