How many of us parents breathe a sigh of relief when our kids are happily playing a game on the computer or phone? When they’re entertained, it’s easy to tune out, but that might actually be the best time to lean in and make a real connection with your child and their interests.
Connected Camps counselors are near-peer mentors to kids in our programs. They’re college students, and they’re close enough to the age of participants to remember what it felt like to be a younger kid gaming or building in Minecraft. We asked them about how their families were connected to their interest in games. They shared suggestions for learning about games, asking questions, learning to play, and encouraging balance.
Learn about their favorite games
Sebastian is one of our counselors. He wishes his family had better understood how his love of Minecraft harnessed his creativity. He said, “This idea of creating new and foreign worlds with rich lore really appealed to me, and the endless potential within Minecraft really let me express that. As a kid, I would have loved if my family understood this, and it would have been great to see them encourage this.”
He encourages parents to spend a little time becoming familiar with their child’s interests. He said, “Try to look up studies on the game your child is playing, and maybe even play it and see for yourself how you find it to be ‘enriching.’ After getting both an understanding of the gameplay and learning how the game could potentially be beneficial to your child, try to harness that potential. Give them challenges in a game, or even play alongside them.”
The Center for Games and Impact at Arizona State University has created a series of impact guides with “impact guides” with suggestions for conversation about various games. If your kids are into Minecraft, check out this guide.
Karen is also a Connected Camps counselor. She said, “When I was a kid, games were the only things keeping me from boredom while my parents were working. When my family took interest in games, it made me super happy and enthusiastic to spend time with them while doing something I enjoy.”
She suggests that parents talk to their kids about games even if the parents don’t understand them. “Children love explaining to and teaching others, since that’s what they see through school and parents. Engaging with them even if it’s just talking about games would help them feel noticed and happy, and strengthen bonds. When I engage in conversation with students on games I don’t recognize, they’ll light up and explain what they love about them. They also show me what they’ve created in class and are more keen to ask questions and participate.”
Karen’s advice to parents: “Engage with your child and foster the child’s interests. Asking simple questions such as ‘What is your favorite game?’, ‘What do you do?’, and ‘What are the best/worst parts of the game?’ or ‘What would you change about the game?’ will help spark more conversations and get the children analyzing their experiences to describe them.”
Learn to play!
Ande is the Special Programs Coordinator for Connected Camps. Her mom recognized Ande’s love of gaming and used it to build stronger bonds as she grew up. “As a late teen, she began using gaming as an excuse to sit and have fun with me. She let me name the dog Bidoof. I taught her how to play Pokemon, the entire Kingdom Hearts series, and then she even took to some games on her own time (like Professor Layton) because she discovered she was actually having a lot of fun with gaming as a hobby. To this day, we don’t live very close to each other, but she still sends me messages now and then about games like Animal Crossing, Pokemon Go! and a few others that we play together to stay connected.”
Counselor Bianca Victoria said, “I got into gaming once I had become older in college and surprisingly, my mother did as well. My sister and I would play a lot of Minecraft, and at first our mom would support us by actively listening to our stories and actually asking questions about our gameplay. Eventually, she was very interested and started playing Minecraft herself! I was very surprised but grateful that she wanted to take part in something we enjoyed.”
Ande also shared how her mom helped her balance play with work when she was young, and she still does today. “My mom was always pretty supportive of our gaming. We had to do chores for weeks on end to get a game, but once we got it, she’d let us play a lot. She supported us gaming and having fun with our friends, but she also made sure we remembered to work and study too. We were forced to learn to balance hard work around gaming as a hobby.”
“She likes to make sure that I’m doing ok both in and out of game and that I’m remembering to balance my hard work with my play — even into adulthood. When I was a kid, she wanted to keep me working hard. As an adult, she seems to be making sure I remember to play once in a while instead!”
We appreciate our staff sharing these insights into their own lives. They can help you see how your relationship with your kids can be strengthened if you make the effort to pay attention to their gaming interests and be intentional about connecting with them. This blog post by Connected Camps co-founder Mimi Ito provides additional insights into how to make gaming time into family time.
At the same time, we know that parents are working hard and managing your households, and sometimes it’s great to know your kids are entertained and challenged by others too. That’s when our awesome staff comes into play, teaching a variety of courses using Minecraft and Roblox, leading small group sessions or birthday parties, or moderating our free Kid Club and teen Minecraft servers to keep your kids challenged. Just be sure to ask your kids all about the experience when they’re done!