He received the game as a Christmas gift.
With the other surprises of the day, he didn’t open the game right away, but when he did, he was hooked.
He sat for hours in his gaming chair, eyes glued to the screen, as he manipulated the controller in his hand to make the character move through one challenge to the next.
He was searching for moons.
He was collecting coins.
He was trying to get to the next level.
He was so engaged with his gaming, he didn’t hear the call to come to dinner and lost all interest in building Legos.
His behavior persisted throughout the winter break and into the new year as he and his older brother bargained and battled for gaming time on the device.
He stopped reading books. He didn’t want to play outside. His entire focus was wrapped inside that game.
As an educator, it’s easy for me to read the story above and fall into the abyss of my bias. To pass judgment on that child. To pass judgment on that parent. To shake my head and lament about life “back in my day” then make a direct correlation to the child’s gaming patterns and his average reading ability. After all, if he spent less time gaming and more time reading, he would receive better grades, become a star student, and master his standardized assessments.
But this story is different. I’m not passing judgment because “that” child is mine and “that” parent is me.
I’m writing this post to let you know that my child is fine, and yours will be, too.
My son received a Nintendo Switch gaming system for Christmas, a shared gift with his older brother who is in high school. Both boys received a chosen game to go with the device and they have played on the system nearly every day since we got it.
But here are the details you didn’t get to read above.
Each day my youngest son begs for us to play Mario Odyssey with him, because he knows we have a greater chance to win a level if we work together.
When he’s not playing the game, he’s watching YouTube videos created by others to learn better strategies on how to master various levels with the greatest number of coins.
He invited a friend over to play the game with him, something this somewhat introverted child never does, as we don’t have many neighbors his age nearby.
We made the gaming day happen, and the joy on his face was immeasurable.
He has battled his own frustration to the point where we have nearly sent him to his room. He has discovered that sometimes persistence and perseverance require not more grit, but a change in task and location.
As his mom, I could have very easily placed time limits on his gaming throughout the week. “No games until the weekend,” or “Only 20 minutes today.” But I know what it’s like to be SO EXCITED TO DO SOMETHING only to be told no repeatedly.
It crushes the soul and makes you resentful over time.
I also know what it’s like to be at school all day, followed by hours at after-school care, when all you want is some time to yourself doing something that makes you happy.
I remember what it’s like to be nine years old.
As I watch my son playing his game, and invest MY time getting to know about HIS passion, I discover he’s learning things I would have never thought to teach him.
He is solving complex algorithms as he patiently reminds me, “No, Mommy, you can’t do it that way. You can’t just jump. You have to ground pound, then jump, then do a half wall jump, then throw your hat where you want to land, then dive. That’s how you do it.”
He has become the teacher, and I am his student.
I am fiercely protective of my child, as many Momma Bears are, but I am also a seasoned educator and parent with more than twenty years of experience as both.
My son will be fine.
Yours will, too.
If you are concerned about your child’s gaming interests, take the time to learn more about their passion. What is it about the game that intrigues them? What challenges must they overcome to win? What keeps them coming back to play again?
When my oldest son, Daniel, was obsessed with Minecraft, I discovered his innate ability to match colors and shading to create masterpieces of art. Hours of designing and creating sparked an interest in engineering and chemistry, both of which he is exploring in high school. In fact, he once spent an entire afternoon presenting at our district’s Leadership Conference about how to use Minecraft to teach math and science.
When he was in fourth grade.
As I look across the room at my youngest child, Caleb, I am mesmerized by his ability to remember exactly which kingdom has which star power and his intuitive skill at reading various maps to discover the treasure he seeks.
And just this week, this same nine year old did something I didn’t think was possible.
He actually beat the game.
999 moons. 43 souvenirs. 82 music tracks. Bowser was defeated and he had the joy of seeing every variety of bird on the final ledge, including the elusive penguin.
He even received a digital celebratory postcard showing every single character displayed in the game.
The level of pride my son has for achieving this goal rivals that of student who has received a Principal’s List award at a school assembly.
He knows the satisfaction of accomplishment.
He may never read a 500 page novel and I’m OK with that. (Although, as his book-loving Momma, you can rest assured he is surrounded with books throughout the house should he change his mind!)
He may never play on the high school soccer team and I’m OK with that, too. (Not for lack of trying, of course. He’s done his time with basketball and soccer, neither of which garnered much enthusiasm. Even his interest in swimming waned as he grew older.)
He can put together a 1200 piece Lego set and meticulously create masterpieces with Perler beads, much like his older brother. Perhaps, just perhaps, he is bound for a greater success than I can even imagine in a career that hasn’t yet been created.
It makes me ponder my own instruction as an educator, and wonder if there’s a way we can link this gamification mindset to required curriculum standards in such a way that students can apply these skills to the classroom, too. Are we really preparing our students for future success in this digitally enhanced world?
I don’t have answers, only insights to my child.
I don’t have judgment towards you if you raise your child a different way.
I’m simply bringing to light my experiences and putting them out there from my perspective as I support my child’s passion and celebrate his success.
He’s going to be just fine.