A parent & educator on what gaming can teach

By Anne Collier

To parent, educator, and graduate student Seann Dikkers, videogaming is a great parenting, teaching, and learning tool. A teacher for 10 years and school administrator for four, Dikkers is now working on his PhD in education, and he says in his site, GamingMatter.com, that the PhD part is his students’ fault because they “were the first to ‘get it’ and point him toward games as a means to cognitive stimulation, motivation, community, and immersive experience-rooted learning.”

But what quite possibly will endure way past his PhD and even career is what’s being learned in the gaming that happens at his house. A thorough, thoughtful profile at WhatTheyPlay.com tells how parents can help their children learn things like self-control, critical thinking, and how to negotiate, strategize, and function well in community. Basically, his kids, 9 and 12, are learning social and life literacy as well as whatever skills the games themselves are teaching them. [Here’s what I mean by “life literacy”: Dikkers tell his kids that they can “take anything in the world that people know how to do and … ‘level up’ that skill” just as they can in a videogame, he told WhatTheyPlay. So his 9-year-old ” has been ‘leveling’ her ballet skill by taking lessons as well as learning about dog breeding.]

For example, Seann and Stephanie Dikkers banned LEGO Star Wars for a while because it was causing their kids to argue with each other. So, at that point, the game didn’t fit the parents’ criteria for what games the kids could play: they have to be “pure, powerful, and positive”). “A few years later the kids played the game again in a store and came to their parents with a plan: they had decided that if they played LEGO Star Wars for only short periods at a time, they thought they could handle it without fighting. Since the kids had clearly given the issue a reasonable amount of thought, Mom and Dad accepted their proposition and let them try the game out again.”

The Dikkers are turning videogames’ immersiveness to their and their children’s advantage, just as Seann Dikkers had been doing in the classroom and in his research. Right alongside his own kids and students, he was learning how exercise critical, independent thought on what to play and how to play in this medium so compelling to them. He’s helping them develop the filter in their heads, the one that’s always with them in a highly mobile, user-driven media environment (here’s more about that cognitive filter).

Nobody’s saying it’s easy or all-positive-all-the-time. Dikkers told WhatTheyPlay that “going from monitoring for your kids to monitoring game time with them is a process that takes place over several years.” It helps to have game cred by playing with our kids occasionally (e.g., the Dikkers give the kids 20-30-minute warnings before it’s time to stop so they have time to find a good place in the game to save and quit, or find a sub in multi-player settings). But at the very least, keep communication lines open. Dikkers told WhatTheyPlay that his 12-year-old pretty much “monitors himself” now but knows he can go to his parents is stuff comes up in the gaming environment or community (such as Xbox Live) because he knows they’re “willing to talk about it.”

About that 20-minute warning period: This is good for all parents of gamers (and maybe researchers who are not gamers) to be aware of. Here’s why: “A parent less familiar with games might force their child to have to quit their game before having enough time to save. The ensuing tantrum might be misinterpreted as addiction to the game or in some cases the parent may even come to believe that the game content is causing violent impulse, when in reality it is just the child being justifiably frustrated at having been forced to quit too quickly.”

Related links

* Sean Dikker’s Top 10 games and resources “that introduce you to the variety, design, and engagement of today’s gaming world”
* Great tips for parents: the Dikkers family’s Guide for Gaming
* “Don’t just take away the Xbox: A psychiatrist’s view”

Leave a comment