Mother and Son Bond over Video Games
We bought a Nintendo 64 game system when Tim was just 7 years old. By this point it was clear he had no interest in scouts or Little League. Already a prolific artist, my son was turning out intricately drawn puzzles, mazes, and comics as fast as we could restock reams of paper and newly sharpened crayons.
I didn’t have any apprehensions about introducing video games at the time. Gaming in the mid-1990s was still in its early years, and together mother and son embarked on a journey of exploration and wonder that involved zany racing to grab bananas or guiding Mario through wondrous worlds of lava and quicksand to discover hidden stars. Dinosaurs, sea monsters, and certainly Bowser were a bit intimidating for a boy of 7, and Tim gladly let mom do the hard parts.
As the years went on and my son matured, the adventures of Link, hero of Hyrule and rescuer of the Princess Zelda became “our thing”. Working together we solved complicated puzzles and explored magical realms. We lamented when we were stuck on a certain level, and celebrated when we finally figured out how to get out of a fix. Always when the game was over we were a bit sad.
The Teen Years
Tim’s love of games and puzzles never diminished; rather his interest in making them intensified. No longer satisfied with the limitations of hand drawing, he taught himself programming around the age of 13 or 14. The computer now opened up a whole new world of creation and game making. His father and I continued to encourage his interest, resigned that we did not have a sports enthusiast or outdoorsman on our hands and embraced his creativity.
Do you worry your child’s video game habit is getting out of hand? There are plenty of reasons you should. I think all parents of gamers fear the horror that is a 30 year old son, unemployed, living in the basement, and addicted to his console systems and PC. To ensure that video games did not take over our child’s life, we set certain guidelines and boundaries to balance the desire for fantasy, role play and alone time:
- Playing games is a reward for when chores and school work are properly done
- Be engaged with others through socialization with friends, youth group and eating meals at the table as a family every night
- Continue with extracurricular activities and physical fitness (our son obtained his 2nd degree black belt by age 14)
- Community involvement and volunteerism are a must
- Game titles needed to be preapproved by us – no graphic violence
- Abuse of time spent gaming demanded the confiscation of controllers and hand held devices – no ifs, ands, or buts
- Parents join in! Spend quality time together away from the TV playing while simultaneously monitoring their activity
Not only did he abide by these guidelines fairly well, Tim in fact spent more time making games than he did actually playing them.
Like most parents of 16 year olds, I think we went an entire year of our son barely speaking to us. We were lucky to get a grunt, or better yet a one word answer out of him. His sister and friends replaced me as gaming companion, a telltale sign of a young man exerting his independence from his mother, just as it should be. It was no longer necessary to need me to help solve puzzles and riddles, leap on the back of a writhing serpent, or battle baddies for him.
At the time, I never really considered the relevance my game playing had on my son’s development. It was just something to do together that happened to be fun. And just because I’m a mom doesn't mean dads don’t have a positive influence.
The Young Adult
Now that Tim is a sophomore in college 400 miles away from home (majoring in Game Art and Animation!) it’s now clearer than ever the positive impact on both of us. While I was the teacher, guide, and encourager when he was little, my young adult son is now teaching mom new tricks. When he is home on breaks he has introduced me to Portal 2 where we once again work together to solve complicated puzzles, and more recently he has turned his mother into a Minecraft nut. While it was quite the battle to get me to embrace PC gaming, it has been completely worth it as we once again diligently worked together last summer break to craft homes, buildings, farms, and fortresses. At the same time Tim is laughing at his mother in mock shame when I scream at the dreaded appearance, hiss, and explosion of a Creeper. Make no mistake that while all of this was going on he held a full time summer job.
Son Teaches Mom Minecraft
Recently I asked Tim about his impressions of gaming with his mother and what if any impact its had on him. He tells me that while he has lots of good memories that don’t involve video games, the ones that do are special because they never focused on competition, but rather experiencing something new together for the first time. He also says that other kids have expressed jealousy that their moms and dads didn't show an interest in playing with them. How many of our youth wish deep down their parents was actively involved in their play and spending one on one time with them?