Data points on video games and screen time for kids

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Kelda writes: 

"I wondered if you would be interested in doing a post on video games and (young? elementary? all ages?) children. I've read some of what you've written about technology and games and thought it made a lot of sense - if still felt rather far from me and my own inclinations. (I grew up in the US in the '80s without a television - scandalously weird at the time, but something I'm really grateful for now - and I am deeply ambivalent, you might say, about screen-stuff in general). I have a 5 yo and a 2 yo, both boys, and while neither of them are talking about things like Minecraft now, I know it's just a matter of time. Could we do a data-points round up of your readers, of their various responses/policies toward and feelings about games in general and Minecraft in particular? I really trust the diverse and thoughtful sensibilities of my fellow Moxites, and I would be SO grateful to have things to think with about this.

Pros/cons? Boundary-setting? Different games and their plusses/minuses? How games have changed family dynamics, better and worse? Tips for navigating boundaries? Anything at all?!?

I feel like this - screen-time in general, games more specifically, particular games even more narrowly - is one of the big and very new challenges of parenting now, and I don't know where to turn to think through my own conflicting feelings. And I'd just as soon start thinking about what my feelings are -- and learn a bit more outside my box -- before my kid comes home clamoring for something I haven't yet begun to understand."

I'm not sure there's a Right answer here, just one that works for your family. 

I see video games as just another external amusement that people engage with, like books or movies or tv shows, that involve your eyes and brain more than your body. There are differences in the way we engage with books and tv, and there are differences in the way we engage with tv and video games, and books and video games. I'd also argue that there are differences in the way we engage with different kinds of books (reading non-fiction feels radically different from reading fiction to me and seems to be getting even more different as I get older). And I KNOW there are differences in the way we engage with different video games. 

So for me it makes no sense to lump playing Minecraft (which neither of my kids plays so my only familiarity with it is when my friends make cakes for their kids' birthdays based on it) in with playing Wii Star Wars with playing Call of Duty with a parent with playing Words With Friends with playing Angry Birds. 

For me, personally, I wasn't comfortable with a lot of the aspects of Call of Duty and the other first-person shooter (FPS) games BUT that is also because I knew I wasn't going to be playing them along with my kids. I let my kids watch tv when they were little because we watched it together and talked about it (my kids are really good at picking apart the logical fallacies in commercials because we talked about them so much) and I feel like gaming needs similar apprenticing. I have friends who play FPS games with their kids and it's bonding time for them, and they're showing their kids how to navigate the boundaries of the story and reality.  I'm not willing to spend time doing that with FPS games because they don't interest me. Angry Birds, though... We spent a lot of time playing that. (Which will totally come in handy when we need to break into a concrete structure using only birds and a slingshot.)

So essentially what I'm saying is that I think video games are really similar to any other thing that takes your kid out of the immediate physical world and into a story. Humans are hard-wired to create and immerse ourselves in narrative--this is just another form of that. But just as some people don't like certain kinds of stories, people don't like certain kinds of video game stories, and that's fine. Spend some time playing or watching people play different types of video games to figure out which ones you are willing to play with your kids. And then at a certain point your kids will figure out which kinds of games they want to play and those might not be the ones you want to play, so you'll have to observe and get opinions about when they're old enough to get into those games without your supervision.

I'm betting you know a ton of adult gamers, so ask them which ones they play and if they're appropriate for kids your kids' ages, and what they'd suggest about how to start.  Ask Moxie reader and gamer Elaine writes and podcasts a lot about gaming and kids ("games are my parenting niche," she says) and you can read her blog MOMOMGWTFBBQ and the column she writes at another gaming site.

But, like anything else, this is a process of developing your own house rules. If you don't want your kids having certain kinds of engagement with narrative, then just say no. Or decide what your limits are for certain types of engagement. 

Readers, what do you do about gaming and screen time and time engaged in stories in general?