05/29/2014 11:31 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Steps to Bliss with Kids and Games: An Interview with Jordan Shapiro

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Forbes leading edtech journalist, author and professor, Jordan Shapiro, to talk about kids and the future of education technology. As a dad and expert on video games and tech for kids, Jordan has a unique perspective and approach to parenting in the digital age. Jordan had many insights, which when put together, give us a set of steps we can follow to maximize happiness with our kids and their screens.

Step 1: Accept that games and technology are here to stay.
"I'm not so much interested in 'Is it healthy or not healthy?' I'm more interested in 'It's here, what kind of impact is it going to have?'"

We can call this step acceptance. Maybe you don't have a television. Perhaps you are limiting your kids' screen time. No matter what, our kids are going to gain access to screens and likely games, especially when we consider "uncontrolled" spaces like friends' homes. Knowing this, we have to make plans that accept that basic fact.

Step 2: Start playing with your kids.
"I'm not afraid of the technology... what I'm afraid of is that we're not asking the right questions so that we make sure that what we produce with this technology is really intentional."

When your kids do play games, don't use the screen as a babysitter. Know what they are playing. This will help you know what they are doing, and more importantly, you will gain a better understanding of what your kids are consuming. As Jordan pointed out, we have to be informed consumers so that we can demand games and technology that align with our "ethics, world view, and education." As he says, "We want to live together peacefully... and hopefully all of our games are moving toward that." If we want to see technology that is good for the world, we have to understand it (and play with it) in the first place.


Step 3: Consider a child's non-linear perspective in a world of hyperlinks.
"I grew up in a world where stories were still linear, they had beginnings and ends. And my kids are grew up in a world where stories have beginnings and a whole bunch of hyperlinks and never really come to an end."

Not only should we care about the content of our kids' games, but also the ways in which playing these games is shaping how our kids make sense of the world. In Jordan's words,

We're going to have a generation of kids that are going to grow up going from something that's binary to something that's multiplicitous. No more black and white thinking, it's a full color scale. And I think it's going to get really exciting when we're talking about big political, moral, ethical issues. A generation that grew up with a totally different way of understanding things.

Step 4: Stop chastising. Start questioning.
"I think we generally don't give kids credit for the sophistication with which they can have discussions at very young ages."

Recently, my son asked me, "Mom, do guns die people?" My initial reaction was to ignore the conversation and try to change topics. Instead, though, it is better to ask him questions about where he learned that fact, and to share information and my perspective, in an age-appropriate way. The same holds true for games. We have to talk about what our kids are seeing, and explain our perspective. As Jordan said, "Instead of chastising and prohibiting kids from playing games, ask 'Have you thought about why you might want to kill someone while you're playing a videogame?'" He pointed out that he doesn't let his boys play violent video games, and he knows that even if they do sneak one in here or there, they will understand that their dad, their role model, sees that game as fundamentally bad or wrong. We have to help raise our kids' consciousness about what they are consuming.

Step 5. Think about games as a metaphor for learning.
"What you see is everything in learning is becoming about the process, about the metacognitive questions about how we can teach the system."

When I asked Jordan about what he saw as the most exciting trend for games and technology in learning, there was no mention of gadgets or machines. Instead, he referenced a recent visit he paid to The Institute of Play's Quest to Learn School. This public middle school was created by educators and game designers, and everything is designed like a video game. In essence, the school designers have brought the principles from video games to the curriculum and learning process. Kids have missions, objectives and tools to succeed. "Instead of asking, 'what are the answers?' kids are asking, 'what are the systems?'" As Jordan described, when gaming, people create avatars, so they are able to think about themselves and process from a distance. They think about thinking, which is a skill and perspective that encourages deeper learning.

These are some of the highlights from my conversation with Jordan, and you can watch our entire interview here. How do you approach gaming with your children?