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Shooting, swearing, blood.

That’s what I see on the TV screen. My 13-year-old is playing “Just Cause” on the Xbox. Do your kids have an Xbox or Playstation gaming system? This game is M rated (don’t judge), so we put a few agreements in place—he’s agreed not to shoot guys after they are “down”, never to kill civilians, and not to kill anyone you don’t have to kill.

I sit down next to my son. He lets me sit really close.

I kiss his warm, pink cheek. He lets me. I remember when I had free access to kiss those cheeks.

I get curious about the game. “What’s the mission?” I ask. And he tells me.

Oh, no! He’s jumping out of a moving car. Phew, he’s okay. Now he’s hopped into a helicopter. And what’s that? He’s dropping a bomb on a bridge . . .

“You’re pretty powerful in this game, huh?”

“Yeah,” he says.

I snuggle in and don’t say anything else. I just watch. I feel close to him. For him, this is serious business.

Why do I watch him?

First, I almost always get to sneak more kisses and snuggles, and he doesn’t stop me. That’s reason enough for me. 🙂

But also, I get to learn more about what interests him. It’s easy to minimize these games and judge them as a waste of time, too violent, or something we just “can’t understand why they enjoy.” But the games do matter to them. And when I watch and ask (a few) questions, he knows that his world and his interests matter to me – that he matters to me. And we get to talk—and I don’t know about you, but my teenaged boy is not always eager to sit down and talk to me.

Fast forward to another day. I walk in with my book in hand and sit next to him. This time, not so close, just near him. He’s playing a new game, The Division.

I ask him about it, and he tells me the story and the mission. I’m genuinely curious about how the game works and what his role is—I ask a few questions. He freely answers them all.

We’re communicating on his terms.
Have you noticed that 90% of our communications with our kids are on our terms? We’re really good at talking about what we want to talk about, right? But what about what matters to them?

He tells me he has to kill a drug dealer because he needs the morphine for the sick people. I ask him if he can just knock him out and take the morphine—does he have to kill him? He tells me that it’s a win:win. The drug dealers are part of the problem and they need the drugs to save the people. “Oh, okay,” I say. He tells me he wouldn’t kill them if he didn’t think it was for the best.

In the course of the game, I have a chance to talk about some of our agreements. I ask him about civilians and if he’s able to stick to our agreement around not killing civilians. “Of course mom, I’m saving them. Why would I kill them?” Oh, of course, okay. “When you shoot the guy, do you just shoot him once and walk away when you know he’s down?” I ask. “Yeah, mom, I don’t overkill.” Oh, okay, cool.

“He’s really an excellent communicator,” I think to myself. He’s teaching me things. “Look, mom, if I go over here, I can get these guys and get more morphine.” These kids are highly motivated to accomplish the mission they’re on.

I get to see another side of him. He talks without that edge of (teenage) impatience. He seems excited to share what he knows and what he’s thinking. Even a little proud. And the video games don’t seem as bad or scary when I understand them better.

Out of the blue he tells me, “Mom, I know there are some games that are really bad. I promise you I’ll never get Grand Theft Auto…even I know that there’s nothing good in that game.”

Inside, I smile and feel a little relief.

This all happens in just a few minutes. I know not to push it, I pull out my book and start reading. Soon, he wants me to see what he’s doing. “Mom, look. Mom, I just figured out where this is in NYC. Daddy told me this is where he lived when he went to NYU!” He likes me sitting there with him.

And I do too.

Post in the comments below what your experience is with your kids’ video games. When I told my friends that I hang with my kids while they play video games, several of them said that it never even occurred to them. I guess it never occurred to me, either, until the first day I did it. And if I’m really honest, I actually play the games with them on their iPhones 😉 My inner geek loves this stuff!

P.S. A little tip.

I learned a little lesson on when NOT to watch him play. When he’s on with his friends. Yeah, not so cool to ask questions while he’s playing live with his buds. I got the “mo-om…can you just leave?” I chuckled and walked out of the room. I guess I’m not THAT cool 😉

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