Buy your own console Dad.

nonviolent-video-games-kids

For – I won’t delete it.

Playing with teens, especially boys is important for parents.  I could provide a list of references but as this is a blog, just trust me for a moment.

First, do a Google search of images for Dads and kids playing games. You might find this one — but you will find most images of dads are gaming with either old systems and computers and most often young children. The media representation you see, and perhaps don’t actively think about is that Dads and teens don’t play. If you add the broad media dogma of anti-social content and behaviour, then the message is Dads should not play with teens.

Most interestingly, all the images I found are co-op play on a couch. Not networked play at all. So the media message – the boundary of communication – is that Dads and teens (boys) don’t or should not play networked games together.

I’m talking about boys because if we apply this to Dads and girls (and we know almost half of gamers are girls) the result is almost zero. Not try mums and daughers … zero.

So the problem is this: Games are bad, Dads are there to yank the modem and mum, well mum’s in the corner crying about the state of the family and this effing console.

So does it have to be this way? Is there a solution? … I think so, and my research (so far) suggests we have to connect our past to their present and work hard to fill in the ‘gaps’ which are not technological at all.

We accept: Raising teen boys in a digital age, where they are constantly marketed to isn’t easy. Firstly, most of the games are designed for adults, and appeal to the long standing marketing of content and themes – such as boys build stuff where girls don’t. I again refrain from adding a list of references to research into the marketing of games, toys and entertainment based on gender stereotypes – but we all know it is both a reality (that we don’t think is okay) and that marketing companies don’t care as long as they sell sufficient products.

So where does this leave boys and Dads right now?

The distance problem: Well you could try and manage the time they spend online, from the stance that Dad doesn’t play with them (one step removed) or plays separately (two steps) or doesn’t play at all (three steps). Each step is a move further away from the ‘half-life’ world that your teen has created and loves.

The enduring social maturation problem: Many teens don’t want to have Dad anywhere near their friends – unless they need the family Uber service. Some Dads try way too hard and others just go about their own interests – in the role that the media and consumer machine reminds them is the ideal – work, provide, sleep and repeat.

The work life balance problem: Many Dads (and mums) are working longer hours and travelling further to and from work. The home (more research) and the family routine (more research) is far from that of the 1960s (research) when the home moved from a place of work to a place of leisure (research) and more and more consumer goods (more research). Please assume mums are in integral part of my discussion too! but alas no game research differentiates between mums and dads – it just sticks to ‘parents’.

The networked participation problem:  If parents want to understand the present and future lives of their teens, then they need to activate their own agency to do so. I don’t mean playing games six hours a day, but making an effort to be involved in the world they live in and be authentic in doing so. If you are lucky – you might be accepted as a co-player, you might even be allowed to play competitive games in a team. You might even learn something and have some fun you never imagined. Most people have a hard time accepting this – but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

The ignore it problem: If you stand aside, being a critic and demonizing their use of games and networks, it means you don’t understand the power of networks and culture of participation that they have created – though social play (more research).

But the research is limited …

What isn’t in the research (I’m working on that as a tiny dot with about then other dots) is what happens when teens and Dads play networked games. In fact there’s no research that could be related to the current state of XBONE, PS, STEAM etc.,

Does the the balance of power shift to the child as people often seem assume? Well, actually, it doesn’t – or at least no one’s shown it does. I know I can’t show it does either. What I see is the same network-effect that people such as John Seeley Brown and Henry Jenkins have been talking about for a decade. Except this time, there is a powerful buff – the bond between parent and child.

I see parents with twenty years of gaming experience is the norm not the exception … but few have on-going network experiences of playing with thier kids as teens.

There’s no point trying to get teens off line – yanking the modem, yelling and threatening them … because while you take the game-time, the network remains pervasive and you opted out. You don’t know the network and it doesn’t notice you’re absence.

In short, you might as well lock them in a panic-room for the time you also yank their access to their network – and there is no evidence to suggest that this has any effect on changing their behavior. If your teen is also stressed, anxious and worse – depressed – then you have to wonder what damage this causes.

What does matter: The quality of the time they are allowed to play (thin and new research). The device they play on (thin research) and the network they play with (broad research about network cultures). Let’s assume parents are at least monitoring the total time and the physical space (research into the latter is thin, but exists).

It is la-la land to think that kids will emulate their parents childhood in some weird Famous Five or Secret Seven way … let it go ..l let it go … and find a new way forward – even if that way sounds crazy right now.

There’s some (research) to tell you how digital media is causing depression and anxiety in families (but isolating that from other factors – pure speculation) – but I’ll bet most readers have felt the wrath of a rampaging teen who’s just had the wifi shut down.

Now think how much you could spend in therapy (do they really have answers or strategies based on games and not TV.) Ask them if  TV watching is their baseline (and what specific XP do they have in games research). I’ll wager, most have been blaming games for social decay and addiction on thin experiments and leaps of faith so far. Some seem to have got very rich off it.

So I’m saying, go out today and for $400 you’re online with them this afternoon. You’re playing and connecting with them in a way you are not doing now. What’s that a few hours of counseling – which you can’t resell on Gumtree if it doesn’t work.

At no point has anyone proven (or even written much about) how teens don’t want parents to play with them, nor that parents would be rejected if they asked. Your teen will probably jump at the chance – you’ll be set up in no time, connected to their friends – who frankly will be amazed that a Dad (or Mum) has rolled up to play on their terms.

Is this so hard or weird? Of course not – kids shoot hoops with dads, go fishing with dads, watch the game with dads and much more …. but it trails off because kids grow up, and arguably, the advent of media makes this years earlier than it once did.

You might have an 11 year old who’s disconnected with you and connected with ‘randoms’ on-line … but if you get online and genuinely want to play and understand them as a person – with their own self-efficacy, agency and knowledge — you aint gonna find that by yelling and yanking the modem.

The problem is … you won’t find a workshop or parenting event that is going to tell you about this — or give you a plan … because so far, moaning and disconnecting has been the response to them enjoying and connecting … now which parenting approach is the one you really want.

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