Last year, I talked about playing with preschoolers and reading-age children. Several months later, I'd like to continue the series by tackling the topic of teens. I'm now tempted to talk in tantalizing alliteration, but I really can't keep it up. Anyway...
Teens provide a completely different challenge than the young children we've discussed before. Teens are already extremely competent readers, experience Trade Chat-like talk in school on a regular basis and have the coordination skills required to fully play the game. So they don't need the coddling and constant supervision, but that doesn't mean that the benefits of parents playing with teens aren't just as valuable.
This article is for responsible parents who wish to make the most out of their and their child's gaming. All parents know that their children require other activities than gaming. In no way am I suggesting that playing WoW with your child should be the only activity done together or that it should be your child's only leisure pursuit. We all know that human beings need a balance of work and play, active and sedentary, outside and inside, social and solitary, etc. If a teen has issues with addiction, anti-social behavior or any developmental problem; Captain Obvious says that his or her parents need to seek professional help as well as use their own brains to try to solve these issues. Enough disclaimers, let's get to the guide.
In order to avoid pronoun trouble, today's teen will be played by Johnny. Actual gender and name may vary.
Don't ban video games
I'm going to assume here that you want Johnny to not only attend, but graduate from a university. Even if that is not the case, you still want Johnny to be happy and successful when he is out on his own. When he doesn't have you to supervise him, he's going to be tempted to do the things he enjoys rather than study, work, clean, etc. If you ban video games during the school year or even during the week, he may not learn the required time management skills he'll need to succeed after he leaves the nest. If, with your guidance, he is able to create and keep a schedule balancing school, study, chores and leisure time; it will be an old habit by the time he's exposed to greater responsibilities and temptations.
Playing WoW is cool
(Note: When I use the word "cool", I mean what your particular teen thinks is cool. I do not mean what the general populace thinks is cool. If your teen doesn't think playing WoW is a cool thing for him to do, then this article is obviously not for you. This section is about common ground between parent and teen, not peer pressure.)
The generation gap that occurs between parents and children is really more of a Cool Gap. If we don't like the entertainment options our kids like, we are uncool. And, unfortunately, Johnny is more likely to respect and want to emulate the people who he thinks are cool. So you are competing with the hot chick in Trigonometry, the clique of "nonconformists" and the druggy at lunch who complains that the cafeteria plates are trying to compartmentalize his life. If you both think Azeroth is a cool place to hang out, you are much less likely to be tuned out in non-Azerothian situations.
Don't be naive
Remember all those things you did when you were Johnny's age? Yeah, he's doing them too. Oh, kids these days don't do that anymore? Then he's doing the current equivalent. Johnny's a good kid and he'd never do that? Johnny may have a different definition of "good" -- either through changing times, a different philosophy or insufficient education -- and may think it's OK to experiment. Keeping all internet access in a centralized location, where someone could be looking over his shoulder at any time, will reduce the chances of online transgressions from occurring while he is home. Don't let the runaway story happen to you.
When and how
Johnny should be able to have some sessions without you, just as you should have some non-parenting WoW playtime. But do play at the same time regularly.
- Overlap your sessions: You can still get many of the benefits of playing with Johnny without actually grouping with him. You can also make sure that if you start your playtime partway through his, that he logs off at the scheduled time. This will also allow you to witness any extenuating circumstances when he is unable to log off right on schedule. Should he not have started that activity so late? Did he rely too much on someone else? Let him make make these mistakes and then tell him how to avoid them offline after the session.
- Plan playdates: Johnny will cringe at the use of the word "playdate", so perhaps the use of "appointment" might be better. Regardless, you should definitely have some time grouped together. The groups don't have to be just the two of you, however. I highly recommend running some random PUGs together, hanging out with regular online friends and even raiding, time permitting. Both of you working together on a team will really build a comeraderie that is hard to find other than participating in team sports.
Your sessions together are likely to offer great rewards:
- Leading by example: Your interactions with other players, particularly the funsuckers, will have a huge impact on Johnny. He will see how an adult should handle the large variety of social situations that WoW provides. Captain Obvious says that the whole "Do as I say, not as I do." philosophy is not quite as effective as demonstrating the best way to interact with all kinds of people.
- Language use: This may sound schoolmastery, but go ahead and require Johnny to type out his sentences fully. He should be able to easily see the difference between how you get treated when you sound educated as opposed to sounding like an almost illiterate brat. The rest of us will thank you for it as well.
- Networking: Guild interactions, friends lists, sharing, grouping, forum posting -- all of these provide excellent practice in becoming part of a community and nurturing extended relationships. Encourage participation and offer yourself as a resource for any issues that come up.
- Reference skills: Whether the two of you are just duoing or even if you are raiding, don't just spoonfeed Johnny specs, gear options, etc. If he takes ownership of his character, looks into everything he wants to accomplish and how to do it, he'll be learning skills he needs to complete both school and work assignments.
- Handling conflict: Sure, you're both going to have to deal with conflicts with other people in-game and that is a good learning tool. But you and Johnny are also going to have disagreements about WoW as well. He may try your patience. You may annoy him. You both may hate how the other handled a situation. It won't all be good times. Resolving these in-game conflicts will help you both with out of game issues as well. Or it might even reveal underlying problems that needed to be dealt with. Unless you are the type of person who avoids dealing with things until you absolutely have to (which is a whole other issue), you will find this a healthy experience.
The time spent together on common ground should help keep a closer relationship with Johnny when he leaves and develops other interests. As long as the two of you didn't get carried away with playing all the time, you'll have taught him how to schedule his time. With good study habits and the idea of rewarding work with play, Johnny should be able to handle the time constraints and temptations that adulthood brings. He'll also be acting like an adult instead of giving gamers a bad name. And you now have a way of still hanging out with Johnny, even if he moves to the other side of the planet. Whether you'll be playing a Blizzard game, or whatever the next great MMO is, you'll be able to spend meaningful time together in a way that a phone call or email just can't provide.
More parental reading from the Drama Mamas
MMOfamily: My fellow Drama Mama, Lisa Poisso, writes a column about parenting and MMOs over at our sister site, Massively.
Azeroth Interrupted: My retired column tackled a few parenting topics.