Ask the Experts

My Son Prefers Video Games To Friends

“I’m concerned that Minecraft is isolating my son from his friends and family. When he plays, he doesn’t communicate with anyone. Whereas board games encourage cooperation and interaction, video games seem to do the opposite. What can I do?”

First, let me clarify that not all video games isolate kids from others. This is a common misconception. In reality, more than 70 percent of games played today involve a degree of social activity — playing with others online, watching another child play, or playing a multiplayer game in the same setting. Even when Minecraft is played in a solo fashion, its creative mode provides children with an opportunity to talk to their real-world peers in real time about what they are doing.

Parents can also transform Minecraft into a family activity by asking children to talk to them about what they are doing, watching them play, joining them on a server, or viewing a Minecraft video together and asking them to comment on it. Once you ask, they may never stop talking to you about it — and in the process they will be practicing organizational, planning, and focusing skills.

That kids play in front of a screen in the 21st century speaks to broader societal trends. Unlike many of their parents, children today do not always have the same ability to go outside and play safely in their neighborhoods. This is the case for many reasons, including two parents working, concerns regarding safety, overscheduling, and a lack of opportunity for kids to engage in after-school and weekend activities with their peers.

When parents find that Minecraft is isolating their children from others, I encourage a few simple strategies:

1) Keep the technology in public places.

2) Ensure that at least part of gameplay time is with another child visiting at the house at the same time.

3) Be insistent that the majority of video game play is social in nature and that they play with their cousins, friends from school, or kids in the neighborhood.

4) Always keep your focus on balancing any video game play with other activities such as physical, social, creative, and unstructured play. I call this balance a “Play Diet” and think that this is the key to making video game or digital play beneficial to a child.

5) If this doesn’t work, you may need to get involved in playing with them.

I also encourage parents of kids with ADHD to think beyond the issue of isolation, and to consider more broadly a set of clear and realistic rules for technology use; here are some guidelines.

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