Rebecca: So, I am back with Alok and Kruti Kanojia. They are the co-founders of Healthy Gamer. We’ve have been talking about technology, we’ve been talking about gaming, and today we’re going to talk about focusing on staying connected. So, when we’re talking about technology, there’s often this disconnection that happens and we’ve been alluding to it in our first segment. It happens because parents see that there’s something that may be not working, but they’re not sure how to go in. And so, I want to talk more about that relationship piece that you were just alluding to, being so important and you know that’s where my work is, too. So, what can parents do to stay connected?
Dr. K: So, I think the first thing is understand why your child is playing the video game. Try to understand what is it that attracts them to the game? So usually what we tend to see is a kid is playing games in their room and then you call them for dinner. They don’t show up. You call a second time, they don’t show up, and then you go up there. Parent is frustrated and then pulls the plug because the kid is appropriately not responding. He’s not doing, he or she’s not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And so, then it creates tension and then over time the parent responds usually by restriction or punishment or something like that because if the kid isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing as a parent. You know if there’s a bad behavior you don’t reinforce that behavior and that all makes sense I think it’s good parenting to set limits on your kids and to expect certain things, but very few parents stop and try to understand why is the child doing this. And I think that’s where, if you want to rebuild your connection, if your connection is kind of frayed, that’s where you start. So, you really have to sit down and try to understand because I think the other thing that happens is that children don’t have the perception that their parents understand. So, then you kind of get into this phase of, “They’re just taking the game away, they don’t understand what it means to me, they don’t try to understand me, they don’t ask questions. They’re just restrictive. They’re like a force for punishment, so we think the foundation of rebuilding a connection, which is a big part of what we do. We’re all about rebuilding what we call a therapeutic alliance with your child. Right so you guys have to be on the same team and that starts with understanding.
So it starts with asking questions like, “What do you play?” and “What is it about that game that you like?” “Why aren’t you playing Fortnight or Minecraft or Apex Legends or World of Warcraft?” Or “If you try playing this game, what do you like about it what don’t you like about it?” Fascinating thing is when parents start asking questions like that, the kids first of all get really confused. They’re like, “I’m surprised! I didn’t even know you knew what that was.” And then what happens is something miraculous: they start talking. Right! So there’s this whole world that your child is becoming a part of which you don’t understand (if) you don’t know what they play. You don’t know who they play it with, you don’t know the ages of the people that they play it with. Right, so your child is engaging in this world which you don’t understand. I think for the parents who have been the most successful at building an alliance with their child have been the ones who understand what their child is doing and why they’re doing it. They begin to understand things like, “Oh yeah, I play World of Warcraft because there’s a community and I like working with 25 other human beings to accomplish this really difficult task. And the people who I play with online don’t actually like call me names or make fun of my acne.” It’s hard right now with social media. For the first time in history, we have an easily quantifiable way to judge your social popularity, right? Like when I post something, some people get a thousand likes and you get two and then that tells your brain that as a human being you were objectively less valued than someone else.
Rebecca: Wow that’s a lot of pressure.
Dr. K: It is and so these like kids turn to games because on games you know they don’t have acne or they’re not overweight or their voice doesn’t crack. You know a video game is colorblind, you don’t have an ethnicity and sometimes you don’t even have a gender. You get judged for who you are and I think that when parents, sometimes part of the reason that when they take games away that it creates a lot of conflict is they don’t understand that they’re taking away a part of your child’s identity. You’re taking away their friends you’re taking away the people who value them as human beings.
Rebecca: Yeah, it’s their world.
Dr. K: Absolutely and I think the basis of forming a connection is first of all to understand that and once you understand it, then you can share your opinion with them. Right, you can say, “Hey, I know that ____,” because then you understand what you’re doing when you tell them to log off. You understand the impact that it has on them.
Rebecca: Right, right when they don’t come to dinner the exact time, but you understand that they’re there at the end of this segment and their friends are counting on them because you’ve had that conversation, you know and they can say it’s about five minutes and I’ll be there. You know, but then we can have a little bit more compassion for what’s going on for them.
Dr. K: Absolutely and I think it fosters the way to a really important conversation which is I understand that you have a responsibility to your friends online and you have a responsibility to be at the dinner table. So how can we figure out your schedule in terms, “Do you want to select? Should we start eating 15 minutes later so that you can have time with your friends? Or you know you should be at dinner time and I know that your friends are important to you, but dinner is actually more important.” And the crazy thing is when parents say that, the kids are actually on board as long as the parents understand what they’re asking. It’s not dinner for dinner sake it’s, “Hey, I understand this relationship is important to you, but family time is important to us. We think it should be important to you as well. Is there some way that we can work together to give you what is important to you and also adhere to some reasonable expectations?”
Rebecca: That’s right. It’s not just, “Alright, well then you’re gaming. Alright, as you were, you know never mind me, I’m going to be in the kitchen by myself upset because you’re not here.” Then there’s a conversation, but I hear what you’re saying is that first there’s that understanding. I get what I’m asking you. Yes, yes and I really appreciate the conversation of, “All right, so tell me more about your online world. You know one of the things was that I did an interview a couple of years ago and with the author Larry Cohen, author of Playful Parenting. We were talking about video games and that it’s time for dinner. And one of the things he said was to come in and get right next to your child and put your hand on them. And he’s explained that you’re competing with millions of dollars of marketing that’s happening, you’re competing with that. And get down and look and join them in what they’re doing and that just made such an impact on me. It’s like they’re doing something that’s important to them, join them for a minute to see what they’re doing. Ask them questions. The conversations that I’ve had with my boys about what they do online, their gaming, the things that they enjoy, and the things that they’ve learned about themselves by gaming is fascinating. “I’ve learned that I’m really frustrated,” my oldest son who’s 20 says, “When things aren’t created well that gets really, really frustrating to me and that goes for things that are offline as well. If something isn’t built well, I know this about myself now, and so I don’t play this game anymore because it has too many glitches and that just frustrates me. So, I know that about myself.” So, it’s been really interesting the conversations that have opened up because of that.
Dr. K: The cool thing is understanding what you like and what you don’t like and what sits with you. I think helps people succeed in the real world, too.
Rebecca: Yes absolutely, absolutely.
Dr. K: We see that sometimes in terms of what I’ll tell parents to do and I think we may be talking about this a little bit later is understanding what draws your child to a game. And then if you want them to cut back on their gaming, you can’t just take the gaming away. You have to give them something that satisfies that same thing.
Rebecca: Right that meets their needs.
Dr. K: And so, it looks like Lego and Minecraft, that’s the same thing and if you want them to unplug then you can’t just tell them, “Oh, you know, why don’t you go join Boy Scouts.” That doesn’t compute. As you understand, you can start to make suggestions and your child will also appreciate that you understand that those suggestions are thoughtful. They’re not just so and so this other person’s kid is doing it so you should do it too.
Rebecca: Right basketball the answer is basketball.
Dr. K: Yeah, absolutely.
Rebecca: Right, right, but something that has context, something that has understanding of why.
Kruti: It can also be interesting when they recognize what they’re really good at. So Alok was talking about when he was a young kid that he wasn’t ever going to be like the sports captain. But I see him gaming now and I see him almost like in the quarterback position of, “You go here, you go here, and calling the plays” and it’s really interesting to kind of see that’s really fun to get to be able to play that role and be really good at it. And so that’s one thing that we always find parents really respond to well is asking your kid, “What are you good at in this? Show me a way where this is something that you’re doing that you’re really loving and you’re good at that you can’t do it somewhere else.” And you’ll see kids that are really good at math that are bored in school, but they’re playing these games and making these micro calculations very quickly or they’re kind of like your son. Really creative and maybe don’t have like a great arts program at school, but they’re able to make these beautiful, intricate kind of creations online. So, finding what you’re good at and sharing that sense of pride in your kids accomplishments can go such a long way.
Rebecca: Yeah, yeah, thank you for that. Absolutely, and that then builds self-esteem and connection and that’s what we’re trying to do, right? We’re trying to have a good relationship with our kids and help them to grow and learn about themselves and be successful, whatever that means to them. Yeah, alright. So, anything else on staying connected?
Dr. K: I mean I think we pretty much covered it. I think like I mentioned, the most important thing about staying connected is communication and understanding and a lot of children feel like their parents don’t understand them or don’t understand the game. And so any kind of feedback that you try to provide for them is going to just be devalued because you don’t know what you’re talking about. Once they understand that you DO understand, then the crazy thing is that you can start to tell them, “Hey, I think you should play less,” and they’re willing to listen because you understand.
Rebecca: That’s right, that’s right, because there’s nothing more important than the relationship and when you have that relationship and that connection, then they value what you’re saying. Yeah, thank you so much! Tomorrow, we’re going to be back talking about when gaming is a problem and what can we do, so thank you so much.
Dr. K: Thank you.
Rebecca: You’ve been listening to the All Relationships Can Heal Podcast. I’m Rebecca Thompson Hitt, founder and executive director of The Consciously Parenting Project. You’ve been listening to my week-long series with Alok and Kruti Kanojia, co-founders of Healthy Gamer. If you have any questions about gaming, computers, technology and your kids as you’re listening to this series, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org . And we’ll be back tomorrow for more of our conversation about Healthy Gaming!