When (and how) to Embrace your Child’s Computer Obsession

 If you spend time at one child’s sports matches and at the other’s dance recitals, is it really fair to ignore the computer-obsessed child’s online gaming prowess?

Do your eyes glaze over when your child decides to explain to you, in excruciating detail, how to play his new online game? Do his eyes glaze over as you respond by lecturing him about spending too much time online?

I know, I know, I don’t speak Xbox either and our frustrations with them spending too much time in cyber-space are totally legitimate. But I felt like a privileged fly on the wall when I read this article by adult gamer Jo Harrington. She witnesses the effects on kids when their parents dismiss or ignore their online interests.

Love your cyber-kid by taking interest in his interests. Photo: Quetzalcoatl Salvador Gomez Cabrera, Sxc.hu

Love your cyber-kid by taking interest in his interests. Photo: Quetzalcoatl Salvador Gomez Cabrera, Sxc.hu

My takeaway from Jo’s article was this: You will “lose” your child to cyber space only if you are unwilling to go there with him.

Since reading Jo’s article, I’ve been making it a point to take interest in my son’s interest in all things cyber. It’s not pretty, but I persist, because honestly, if I am not willing to put myself on the line and learn about things that I suck at, then how can I expect my children to sign up for advanced placement physics class when the time comes? So here’s how it goes:

I share the chair with my son and we enter cyber-world. My eyes start spinning around in my head. I see his fingers flying and his lips moving at warp speed while foreign words flow out of his mouth like alphabet soup – gibberish. I gaze at the monitor in confusion and when I ask him to explain things (again) that to him are blatantly obvious, like “…which one of these guys on the screen is you?” he looks at me with an expression of concern that tells me he is wondering to himself whether early Alzheimer’s runs in our family.

Ooookaaaayyyy, this isn’t how I’d like to be spending my time. It hurts my brain. I pray that the phone will ring or that the Jehovah’s Witnesses will ring the doorbell. But then I feel the winds of distance blowing between me and my child. I fear I will never be able to relate to him. So I suck up my discomfort and model the behavior I’d like him to display as a learner and a loved one.

Modeling Positive Self-Talk for your Children

I give him my time. I laugh at my own cluelessness and tell him, “well, I can’t be good at everything, but I can try.”  I tell him that I feel stupid but I keep trying anyway. He tries to find something not-half-bad that I did so he can compliment me. “You’re good at pressing the red button, Mom.”

Maybe he will remember my example and keep trying the next time he doesn’t understand the math lesson, or feels awkward around the girl he likes. Maybe he’ll learn to laugh at himself and look for the positive, instead of feeling – and acting – defeated.

Am I Inept? I Think Not

I point out the difference between inexperienced and inept by sharing with him stories of my youth in prehistoric times, when Atari came out with the very first video game – pong. The extent of my past experience was to control a square that was supposed to be a racquet that you could move up or down to hit (well, more like meet) the ‘ball” back and forth with your partner.

I tell him that unlike today’s complex games, Atari held our attention for  ten or fifteen minutes – ok, thirty minutes tops, maybe forty-five, and it was, “let’s get the hell out of the house and go run around the block or something.” At this point I am tempted to lapse back into lecturing about the benefits of exercise but we are having fun, so I shut up.

Why I Will Continue to Enter Cyber-World With My Kid

Ok, so you’re dying to know is all this worth it, right? My answer is a definite yes. It hasn’t solved all of our cyber problems, but it has benefitted him and me.

As I watch the way he interacts with others online I have learned things about my child that I never knew. It’s really no different than watching him play sports or interact with his friends. You learn what he is good at, how he handles himself, how he relates to other children, how they see him. I found opportunities to praise him for good things that I never would have known he was doing, had I not taken the time.

I also found that Jo was right when she talked about the learning value of some of the games. And I’m not talking about some pathetic hand-eye coordination argument (though my son argues that this really is a benefit.) It turns out not all computer games aim to turn our kids into chimpanzees or mindless zombies, in fact, some of them are far more effective learning tools for subjects like history, science and math than what is being employed in our schools.

I encourage parents of computer-obsessed children to dive in. Ask about what he has done or built or created online lately. Let him show you. Turn on the voicemail box and don’t answer the door. Sit in the learner’s seat and let him teach you. You may learn a lot more about your child than you imagined. And you may find, like I did, that you really value the time you spend together there.

Have you had a similar experience? Do you ignore your child’s cyber-world? Does technology cause more tension in the home than you would like? Has it taught you things about your children? Please share your experiences in the comments.

©Lisa C. DeLuca, all rights reserved.  It is a violation of copyright law to reproduce this work on the web for any reason or for business use without permission from the author. This article was originally published on the web on January 28, 2013.  Please contact the author with your reprint request.

One thought on “When (and how) to Embrace your Child’s Computer Obsession

  1. July 5, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    This is a very important article, Lisa. Spending more time, especially one-on-one time with our children, is always a good thing. But by making the effort to learn about something our son or daughter is very interested in, we’re showing our child respect, a quality we want them to emulate. Often, kids who spend a lot of their free time playing computer or video games don’t receive the same respect as those who prefer sports or are artistic.

    Instead of dismissing what we don’t understand, we need to teach our children to be open to learning new things, to be tolerant of another person’s interests even if they’re not our own and to find the value of experiences–behaviors modeled by simply taking the time to share or participate in our children’s favorite activities.

    By supporting your child’s interest in technology, you can be helping him academically by gaining a clearer understanding of how he learns. And if his interest in computers and video games continues, he might have a fulfilling and lucrative career path.

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