I am no stranger to mommy-guilt or motherhood-based anxieties; I think these come with the territory. But while I am sold on my role as a parent, I’m not sold on the blights to my mood, and self-confidence, not to mention my family, that guilt and anxiety have the potential produce. This dilemma leaves me in constant conversation with my anxious-guilt and guilty-anxiety to see whether there aren’t ways they can relax their grip on me, how we might come to more friendly agreements with each other, or how we can reconcile this metaphorical territorial dispute.
My seven-year-old daughter recently began playing videogames. (You can already see where this is going). I’ll admit I’ve already done hours of “research” over the years, reading everything from blog after blog, to quasi-scientific studies, to countless abstracts of legitimate scientific inquiries on the potential harms of screens to developing brains. So now, I was more than a little apprehensive about how deep into the rabbit hole I was about to go researching effects of videogames themselves on young minds. But discovering what I did after browsing only a few websites drew me up short: there is absolutely no agreement about this issue.
I read everything from how videogames are a great bonding experience to how they are absolutely a toxic drug and even morally equivalent to Satan. Ok, that last quip was a tiny bit of an exaggeration. But really, only a tiny bit, according to the article. The point is, the jury is not only out on videogames, but it’s also all over the place. How was I supposed to figure out whether videogames are an acceptable use of my child’s time or should be banned from our household, or used only as rewards, or where the balance might be in between? Cue the entrance of Mom-Anxiety, fully dressed in hazmat gear while brandishing vice-grips threateningly, and in the meantime, my daughter is spending hours filling her mind with the Lego Movie game which is wreaking who knows what havoc with her vulnerable little neurons.
Thoughts and images like these are usually my cues to take at least one step back, several deep breaths, and a long look around. So I spent the next few times the console got turned on scrutinizing what actually happens when my kiddo takes up the controller: What motivates her to want to play; how does she approach the experience and with whom; how easy or difficult is it for her to pause the game, and after how much time; what’s her mood like afterward; how well does she listen or how responsive is she to her parents’ directions or her little sister’s invitations to play? I also began to more deeply question what was really under that hazmat suit, who let the door open for that ugly doppelganger to barge in anyway, and what would my Mom-Anxiety say if I asked her opinion instead of throwing up defenses against her.
When I gave her the space to speak, my Mom-Anxiety had some pretty interesting things to say, namely that at heart of my worries—as well as many of the fear-mongering statements popping up all over the internet—in regards to videogames seems to be this concept of value-congruence. What does a game-friendly household say about me as a person? About my competence as a mother? About my values, about the kind of relationships I want or am able to cultivate within my family? These are intense questions; no wonder this subject is so highly charged.
The answer that surfaced for me, surprisingly, was it doesn’t say much at all. Like so many other elements of our American middle-class society, videogames in and of themselves are just a thing. In this particular moment of unchecked consumer culture, it’s easy to get caught up in assuming the content of our choices has inherent value, but I’m not buying that, not today. Whether we drink Kombucha or eat Keto doesn’t make us good citizens, good parents, or good people. And neither do clothing labels, political alliances, voting preferences, or videogames.
This is what I observed about my daughter’s time devoted to the Lego Movie game: she was being challenged to solve complex, multi-step problems. She learned that enlisting the help of an expert when she was stuck would get her better results than getting angry. She learned that she had another opportunity for bonding with her father, as Dad was only too happy to hop in and collaborate, even if he was showing off every now and then. (We all need time to shine). She was respecting the time-limited rules I’d set around frequency and duration, and she wasn’t emotionally falling apart whenever it was time to turn it off. And she was having fun. When I stepped back, I discovered that videogames don’t have to undermine my values at all.
This idea of value-congruence is a big one for me; I believe that when I can align my actions, activities, time planned, and time spent, with what I feel like truly matters to me, then usually the brooding Mom-Anxiety will put on yoga pants and a sweatshirt and take a back seat to my confidence in making choices for and with my family (and myself) that I feel good about.
In our house, we’ve been able to incorporate game time into family time, and as family time. We can use videogames to further our family’s values rather than being subject to whatever dangers lie inherent in mindless consumption of media and, well, anything.
For now, this strategy of approaching videogames in works for us. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach; no parenting strategy should be. And sure, I could see how, given the attention-absorbing quality of the gaming experience, without a watchful eye the role of videogames could morph into that of a babysitter, or substitute parent, or escape from reality, or even a dragon-chasing dopamine rush. But thankfully, I have my trusty Mom-Anxiety and Mom-Guilt to step into the room every so often and help me refocus on what’s happening around the house, prompting me to re-evaluate and keeping me on track. So I guess some things sold with the territory can end up being valuable, after all.
Annie Jones is a Lubbock local, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and mother to two girls under ten. She is an enthusiast of yoga, camping, hiking, and traveling. An amateur poet and avid writer, she is dedicated to authentic parenting and wholehearted living.