If your kids have a Play Station or a Nintendo Wii, odds are at some point or another you've felt like nothing in the world could tear them away from it. That's because video games are fun. Yes, fun not only for them, but potentially for you as well. Instead of struggling to get the controllers out of their hands this summer, you might consider picking one up yourself.
"Parents should not feel bad about having game systems in their home," said Cheryl Olson, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and co-author of "Grand Theft Childhood" a book about the effects video games have on kids that was inspired by a study of 1200 twelve to fourteen year-olds she conducted with her husband, Dr. Lawrence Kutner.
Video games often get a bad rap, with the arguments going that they incite violent behavior and are massive time suckers. But Olson's research suggests that they're not as bad as you might think—and counter-intuitive as it may sound, there are some real benefits to spending an afternoon playing them with your kids.
For starters, playing together can provide an opportunity to bond and subtly broach more serious issues with your children, without them feeling like they're in for a serious talk.
"If you're playing side by side, it’s a great time to catch up with your kids," said Olson. "It can be hard to sit them own face to face. No one wants to have The Talk with capital letters."
According to Olson, having your child feel that you support their interests is another plus.
"It's very good for parents to say 'I see that you play this game. I don't get the appeal but you're a smart kid and if you like it so much, there must be something to it,'" she said. "Think of the message that sends to your kids, instead of 'You're wasting your time on this game, things you like are stupid.'"
Other benefits for you include having the games demystified. If you've gone through a game's sequence and seen first hand what kind of material it contains, you might worry less. As for your kids, it's good for them to practice the art of teaching.
"Learning to teach someone else is just a great skill: the mental ability it takes to break down something and explain it to someone else is part of education," said Olson. "It’s a sneaky way to teach your child in a deeper way: what is a successful strategy here?"
The games can also help teach the child about how to deal with frustration as they struggle to get to another level and delayed gratification— after all, you fail many, many times before you free the princess from the castle.
Through strategic game selection, you can succeed in helping your kids without them even knowing it—some games involve more text than others, so if they're struggling with reading, it's a subtle way of getting them to practice.
As much fun as video games can be, it's still important to have guidelines: keeping gaming systems in a child's bedroom is not advised, and you should monitor what games your kids are playing. Websites like WhatTheyPlay.com and the Entertainment Software Rating Board can break the games down for you.