This week, Rich advises parents of kids who own internet-ready video game systems.
Q: My 12-year-old son wanted a PS3, partly as a birthday gift and partly out of money he’s saved. This was to replace his PS2 because some of the games he wanted were not available for PS2. His PS2 is in his room on a non-cable hooked up TV so that all of his approved, appropriately rated games can be played without all the gaming controllers, fake guitars, and the like taking up all of our adult space. But, he is not far enough from me that I don’t know how long (or what) he is playing. After buying the PS3, we learned that, in order to play PS3 games multi-player, the device has to have the wireless Internet function activated. That essentially puts a computer in his room where he is not under supervision. That is not okay with us. I gather that we can restrict the games played by rating, but we are not sure if we can restrict access to the Internet. What do other parents do?
-Worried about Wireless
A: Dear Worried,
It seems that your main concern here is that the PS3 would introduce Internet into his bedroom, and that is certainly important to consider—especially since massively multi-player online role-playing games, or MMORPGs, can create a constant pull to engage in them. But the bigger issue here is that keeping the gaming system in his room denies you the opportunity to really engage with him around how he uses that media.
Given your commitment to being a part of your son’s gaming life, it sounds like it might be time to move the PS3 into public space. Doing so presents you with a perfect opportunity to play those games with him. Even if you don’t especially want to play those games, play anyway—you’re not playing for fun, after all (although it may be fun!). Rather, you’re playing to gain a window into his world, which is a space where he has mastery. That means that he can teach you, which shows him that you respect his learning and his growing individuality. In addition, it opens the door for discussion about the content of the game.
Another reason to move the gaming system is so that you can transfer the responsibility of monitoring his media use from yourself to him in a gradual way. As with cars or power tools or alcohol, teaching your son to use media responsibly is a long-term process. It involves introducing it to him when you feel that he’s ready to handle it (as you’ve already done), and taking responsibility for how he uses it when he’s first exposed to it. Over time, as you grow more confident in his decisions, you can gradually transfer more and more of the responsibility to him.
In this case, you can move the gaming system into the family room and sit beside him as he plays the game, asking questions and learning to play yourself. As you grow more confident that he can set limits on his own use and balance it appropriately with other activities, you can move in and out of the room he’s in, reminding him when time is up as necessary and commending him for his management of his time. In that way, by the time he leaves home and is left to own devices to make media decisions, he will have had experience with making choices about whether, when, and what to use.