Playful Parenting: Bringing Play to Every Day

Playful Parenting: Bringing Play to Every Day

With so many mindless video games available online, how can I teach my 2nd grader to choose games that are appropriate for his age and abilities, without me having to look over his shoulder and constantly monitor?

Erin Walsh

Erin is a Minneapolis-based parent, speaker, educator, and writer. She is also the co-founder (with her father, Dr. David Walsh) of Spark & Stitch Institute, aimed at using a deep understanding of brain science to develop practical strategies for raising connected and courageous kids, online and off.


Erin Walsh : There’s an ideal world where every game our kids play is developmentally appropriate and growth oriented. In reality, that’s not the case. The important thing is to pay attention to kids’ patterns. If the pattern is that every time they go to their device, they’re choosing the kinds of games that smother them with rewards and don’t require any creativity or imagination or world-building, that’s not great. So talk to your child about the importance of having a mix of online experiences. Compare it to the food we eat: Just because we don’t ban sugar in the house doesn’t mean we’d feel good if we ate sugar all the time.

Getting kids to pivot on their own is the hard part. You can start by doing some research with your child. Common Sense Media is a great place to start. Talk through games they like and what else might fit their interests. Whatever they choose to play, have conversations about it: “What do you like about that game? How is it helping you? What do you need to watch out for?” If advertisements run with the games, talk about those. “What does the advertiser want? Are they being honest with you? What tricks are they using to get you to click?” Those conversations are as important as the time they spend playing the games.

Pay attention to how much time they’re spending on mindless games and set limits, if necessary. Mindless fun for 20 minutes is probably okay if it helps your child unwind. But mindless games for 90 minutes might turn your child into a monster. Help your child to recognize that, and set limits on games that offer a firehose of reward without a lot of thoughtful action.

Another issue is that we often call to our kids from another room asking them to turn off their screen. From their perspective, this rarely breaks through the immersive world they’re playing in. Then we get agitated and wrench it out of their hands and everyone is angry. Instead, try taking two minutes to save 20 minutes of outburst. Sit down with them for the last two minutes of screen time. Engage them with real human questions about what they’re doing. As you gain their attention, remind them that it’s almost time to wrap up. As a bonus, you get to learn more about what they’re watching or playing.

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