Friends with video games: When playdates involve age-inappropriate activities

Michael RichMedia expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, answers your questions about media use. Last week, he gave some great suggestions for kid-friendly films.

And now, here’s this week’s Ask the Mediatrician query:

Q: My son is entering 3rd grade and is an only child. When he has playdates at his friends’ homes, sometimes the moms allow video games above my son’s age level, usually because my son’s friends have older siblings. It makes me uncomfortable, but I’ve noticed that a lot of parents don’t appreciate it when I ask that they not play any video games during the playdate—it’s viewed as trying to control what happens in their home, or as some judgment upon them for allowing the younger child to play age-inappropriate games. I don’t want to tell my son he can never go to their houses, so do you have any advice?  I usually try to have kids over to my house so that it’s not an issue, but at some point, the other parents want my son to come to their home.
-Problems with Playdates in Evanston, IL

A: Dear Problems with Playdates,

This can be one of the more uncomfortable challenges of parenting. I applaud your choice of inviting kids to your house, because two things can happen then: You have some control over what the children do, and you can model other appropriate types of activities. When your kids are going to other homes, there are a few approaches you can take:

  1. Have an open discussion. Ask the parent who’s taking the kids what they’ll be doing on the playdate—and mention the plan when you’re bringing kids to your house. That way, you set the expectation that you will share your plans with each other. If there are any activities you’re not comfortable with, whether it’s video games or swimming or football, speak up and share your concerns.
  2. Explain what your child needs. You can tell other parents what your kids like to do or what they need at that time of day. For example, you could say, “I find that he really needs some physical activity after sitting all day in school. Will the guys be playing baseball or something?” That way, you are framing the conversation positively instead of as a series of things they can’t do.
  3. Frame violent video games as something your child doesn’t tolerate. Think of it the way you’d think about a peanut allergy—if your child were allergic to peanuts, you’d never send him to another child’s house without informing the parents about it. In the same way, when you address this issue, you are providing important information about your child to adults who are taking responsibility for him. You could say, “My son is gets really scared by video games with guns—would you mind steering the boys toward other activities so he’s not put in the awkward position of having to either say no or play them anyway?”

The bottom line is to make your comments or suggestions focus on your child, NOT on the parents’ rules or how they run their homes. And if all else fails, laugh about it and take it on yourself, saying it’s your own issue, and thanking them for being accommodating.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician

Have you ever had to talk to another parent about what goes on during your child’s playdates? Share your experiences in the Comments.

Do you have a question about your child’s media use? Ask the Mediatrician today!