I lived with two boys who were passionate and dedicated gamers for 10 years. It was the main focus of their days.
I chose to handle their passionate interest in gaming by encouraging it and exploring it to the full. I never imposed limits on my son’s screen time and when problems arose we found solutions together as a family.
Why did I chose such a radical path?
When I first became a parent 22 years ago I knew that I wanted to follow a “peaceful parenting” path but I didn’t have much of an idea what that meant in practice.
I was clear about only two things:
- I didn’t want to be an authoritarian parent that relied on punishments, rules and control tactics.
- I wanted to allow my children to express their emotions freely and to follow their natural curiosity and desire to learn.
What I didn’t know 22 years ago was that I would be blessed with two highly spirited children that would challenge me every step of the way – just by being themselves and wanting to explore their world to the full.
When my sons were little I didn’t realise that I had some deep, unconscious conditioning (learned beliefs) about the role of a parent and about how children “should” behave. I felt a terrible weight of responsibility for my children’s health and wellbeing and also found myself reacting to behaviour, emotions and play that seemed “unacceptable” or “dangerous”. I heard judgements and threats come out of my mouth that shocked me. When this old conditioning came to the fore, I sounded just like my own parents.
Becoming the parent of these two lively boys brought my desire for peace and joy onto a collision course with my own childhood conditioning. How was I going to deal with these children that hated to be told what to do or restricted; that had loud tantrums, fought with each other and wanted to play with swords and guns and watch Star Wars movies all day? Frankly, I didn’t have the skills and I was scared. It was the greatest challenge that I’d ever faced.
The passion for gaming begins….
The challenge ramped up a few notches when both my sons decided that playing video games was going to be their number one passion at ages 6 and 3 years old respectively.
I was WAY out of my depth. I had a head full of judgements about how bad video games were for children and my fears were being triggered on a daily basis. I was worried about the violent content, about the effect of being in front of screens for many hours every day and about their lack of interest in what I saw as “educational” activities.
My beliefs and fears around gaming were pushing me to control my children, steer them away from the video games and impose limits on their screen time. But my children were outraged by this and they were willing to fight for what they wanted. There were no compliant or obedient children in my house!
It was either going to be a constant battle and struggle, or I was going to have to find another path.
What emerged after years of working on this issue was a system for dealing with my stress and worry and solving any problems that arose over gaming in a cooperative way.
I found a way to be true to my dream of being a peaceful, respectful parent and living in harmony with my children as they explored the world of video gaming.
Here are three elements of my peaceful approach:
1. Get closer and observe more clearly.
I didn’t turn a blind eye or let my sons become isolated in their virtual worlds. Instead, I got even closer to my children and became involved in their new passion. I had no prior experience of gaming but my children wanted help as they explored new games, so I was learning alongside them as they figured out how to play Minecraft, World of Warcraft and countless other games. It was a very steep learning curve for me as well as a very steep unlearning curve. To be fully present with my sons and to accurately observe what was going on with their gaming I had to unlearn the prejudices and judgements that were the filter through which I saw gaming. It was my beliefs about gaming and my fears about the future based on those beliefs that were causing my stress. This unlearning took a lot of research, observation and willingness to change my ideas.
2. Investigate and question my fears.
A huge part of my new joyful parenting path was learning how to deal with my own fears rather than projecting them onto my children. I learned to be more honest, open and vulnerable with my children rather than try and pretend that I was fine and always “in control”.
I learned the difference between fear of immediate physical danger and psychological fear. If my child is OK right now and I’m imagining them coming to harm in the future, then I’m in the grip of psychological fear.
Our minds are so good at generating psychological fear! We see so many scary movies playing out in our heads. The trouble is, we often get confused and believe these future mental scenarios are real, when they are not.
Have you imagined that your child will be depressed and unemployed in the future because they are passionate about gaming and YouTube? That’s psychological fear at work.
I learned a process for investigating and questioning my fears rather than believing that they were all true.
I invite you to question your fears and be really honest with yourself:
Can you be certain that your fears will come true?
Can you really know how your child’s life will turn out?
Can you really know what is best for them?
The more you are willing to ask yourself these questions, the more you will find your perspective shifting as you return to the present. You can only be truly present with your child when you are not thinking about the past or the future .
The more present you are, the more space for genuine connection with your child and the more possibilities you can see. It opens up space to find creative solutions to any issue that arises around gaming.
To be able to live with my children without being controlled by fearful thoughts made such a positive difference to our lives.
3. Learn how to solve problems cooperatively.
To build strong relationships based on trust, respect and open communication required learning new skills. What my parents taught me as a child was that it was OK to use force, coercion and fear to keep children “safe” and to get them to do what you wanted. As I didn’t want to follow in their path, I had to learn some new problem solving skills. What do you do when what you want and what your children want comes into conflict? How can you find solutions together that everybody is happy with?
I discovered that it’s possible, with practice, to join with my children to find solutions that everyone is willing to accept. We used this creative problem solving approach to find solutions to such thorny issues as turning off screens in the evening, getting outside for exercise and choosing age-appropriate games.
In my self-paced online course Making Peace with Screens and Gaming I tell the story of how we lived with unlimited screen time for 15 years. This course is my response to the stress, worry and self-doubt that I’ve witnessed among parents that have dared to let their children explore the world of TV, movies, YouTube and video games. I give you clear guidance on how to investigate the fears that bring you into conflict with our children and how to find fresh ways of approaching technology use.