Can Playing Video Games Make You a Better Parent?

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

How do you know if you're a good parent? There are some markers along the way to give you an idea of your grade -- such as whether your kids are good, caring friends; whether they work hard in school; and whether they are supportive members of the family.

Yet, ultimately, when your kids become teens, the one key metric of success is the quality of the decisions they make. With any luck, you've helped nurture an inner compass that will guide your children in their decision-making. But how do we know we're on the right track and how do we monitor progress along the way?

Most experts agree that one key step in this largely trial-and-error process is for parents to establish strong connections with their children. An emotional "connectedness" is essential in helping kids make good choices, or at least choices that their parents would approve of. ("Like father, like son." "An apple doesn't fall far from the tree." These and similar expressions are testaments to the powerful influence that parents have when it comes to the actions of their kids.)

Connectedness can be achieved by balancing discipline and limits with fond family experiences and loving memories. As a parent, you mostly start with an empty toolbox but you add to it over the years through experimentation, constant practice, and the good advice of other, more experienced parents.

Tried and trusted methods of connecting with our kids include family trips, conversations at the dinner table, and family game night. If you're over 40, then family game night probably conjures up images of Monopoly, Clue and Battleship; hours spent gathered in the family room rolling dice or counting money. But there is whole new generation of kids (and parents) where games mean consoles and controllers and static board game are replaced by fast-moving screen action that, in many cases, is limited only by the player's imagination.

Problem solving? Strategic thinking? Good decision-making? Social awareness? Aren't these the very skills that parents are striving to impart to their kids? -- Monica J. Vila

Although some parents are still reluctant to embrace video games as an approved family activity, it's easy to see how kids might benefit. There are dozens of video games that are geared towards learning but even the most basic games teach us to think logically and quickly process large amounts of data. Rather than passively absorbing content from, say, a TV show, a video game requires a player's constant input to tell the story.

Most video games are designed to allow players to succeed and be rewarded for that success. Different skill levels and a risk and reward culture mean that most video gamers are not afraid to fail and will take a few chances to achieve their goals. Better yet, video games offer instant feedback on our decisions, helping us learn our strengths and weaknesses.

The stereotype of the video gamer as a socially awkward adolescent is as outdated as Space Invaders. Many games have thriving online and offline fan bases, and a community component that strongly encourages social interaction.

Problem solving? Strategic thinking? Good decision-making? Social awareness? Aren't these the very skills that parents are striving to impart to their kids? And what kind of impact could we have on our kids if we played these games together?

In Jane McGonigal's powerful TEDTalk, she presents compelling evidence that the benefits of playing games go beyond the short term high of fantasy role-playing and establish behavioral patterns that can last a lifetime. For the most part, our regrets center not on what we have done in life but on what we haven't done. If you have kids and you haven't tried video gaming, then now is the time. It could make you a better parent!

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