In the last few months we’ve published several “Parenting Help” articles on TheSource4Parents.com about gaming, helping parents learn a little more about the appeal of video games. But yes, I realize there are also a number of parents who are simply wondering, “Would it be bad if I smashed my kid’s game system into a million pieces so he will go outside!!!”
Last month I received the following email:
Tim’s question probably hits home for many of us. Numerous parents struggle when they see their kids devoting countless hours to screen time of any kind. And like Tim, many of us have tried screen time limits, but we can’t help wonder, when this kid goes off to college, is he ever going to leave his dorm room?
I always enjoy your books and blog posts and I wanted your thoughts on something. As I type this, my son has been downstairs with his friend for the past 3 hours playing Modern Warfare 3.
I thought of having them come up for a Bible study before heading to bed for the night. The problem is that it seems that compared to MW3, the Bible is boring. It seems my son can easily get engaged for hours on end with a video game on various mediums (Xbox, PC, phone), but trying to have a 10 minute Bible study is pure torture. I can't seem to keep his attention. At times, I have wrestled with just pulling the plug on all video games, but that seemed like an over-reaction. We do limit him to 2 hours 3x per week, but if I let him, I think he would play much more.
So how do you engage a teen in Bible study when technology/video games seem to be much more engaging?
Here are some quick thoughts I shared with Tim.
- Video games, as a whole, are not the enemy. I’ve seen plenty of research revealing positive life skills young people can develop gaming. In fact, our video game reviewer Samuel Gronseth just wrote a really good article series noting many of the values gaming provides. So don’t overreact and ban video games as a whole. Instead…
- Set realistic expectations and boundaries with your child’s gaming. Want to play the newest Grand Theft Auto? “Sorry. We aren’t going to play games where we go on rampages killing cops and bludgeoning prostitutes.” And we aren’t going to spend every Saturday on the couch because of some sense of “Call of Duty.”
Boundaries are good, not just in gaming, but in other areas of technology like social media. Limits help our kids realize they can't waste their entire life in front of a screen. It makes them go outside and toss a football or ride a bike. So don’t be afraid to instill realistic boundaries or time limits.
I used to limit my son to an hour of gaming per day on a school night, but two hours a day on weekends and during the summer. Your numbers might be different, and that’s okay. The key is to find healthy guidelines that help your kids learn responsibility. Even your doctor would recommend limits on your child’s screen time.
- Use games as a point of interaction with your kid. Play with him. Ask him about the games and let him give you a peek into his gaming world. Don’t do this like a parole officer looking for something wrong, but because you truly want to bond with him. But don’t limit your interaction to technology…
- Offer plenty of other fun distractions like "Today we're going rafting down the river!" (Sometimes as a family, we don't even "offer"... we just tell them.) I'm constantly on the lookout for activities that are "no tech." We have no tech at dinner every night as well, and that brings up a good opportunity to springboard conversations, which brings me to my next point...
- Dialogue about God throughout the day whenever you can. The other day I got an unexpected check in the mail and we went out to eat to celebrate as a family. On the way there we talked about how much God has provided since we've put Him first in our finances. The subject came up again later in the week when my girls were working on their budget.
I constantly look for opportunities to brag about God and point to Him. This sometimes can be through questions, like when we see something in the media that is questionable, I'll ask, "What would you do in that situation?" (a teaching moment) Questions are most effective in these situations, helping create dialogue, not a long boring monologue. If you’re like me, and constantly on the lookout for some creative conversation springboards, then don’t hesitate to…
- Use resources to point to truth. I agree it's difficult at times to open up the Bible and keep our kid's attention, especially if we tell them, “Turn off Modern Warfare 3 so we can read through Leviticus.” That's why I've created some resources that provide points of relevant dialogue between parent and teen. Here are a few you might find helpful:
So don’t stress if your kid loves Call of Duty, but struggles when you read about “The Call of Abraham.” Play video games with your kids, listen to them and look for opportunities to help them discover truth.
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