Friday, March 25, 2011

uDraw - Interview with parenting expert Justin Coulson on kids and games

Kids love playing games. The uDraw game tablet is a new game system, the first to encourage creative expression and imagination. The tablet is a revolutionary game system that allows players to draw images using a pressure sensitive stylus. Sounds great! I was able to ask parenting expert, Justin Coulson who has come on board for the launch of the uDraw a few questions about kids and games. 

Q1. What are the good things kids get out of playing video games?
Kids (and grown-ups) find video games stimulating. Games also offer a sense of ‘down-time’ and recreation. These things can be good if used at appropriate levels, and this is the great challenge that parents face. Some games offer greater benefits than others such as opportunities for positive social interaction, and creativity. (And some offer little or no benefit at all beyond sensory stimulation). Therefore it is up to parents to work with their children to ensure that the games that they play offer useful ways to spend time, and provide benefits that are consistent with the individual family’s values.

Q2. What should parents know about gaming and kids?
Parents should know that kids love gaming, and that their children will want to be involved. They should also be aware that the games their children play can impact on their children’s personality and behaviour for better or for worse. Thus their involvement in the choices their children make in relation to playing video games is essential.

Parents should be involved in the choices their children make in relation to playing video games. There are a couple of key things every parent should consider:

1. Discuss your concerns about video game use. Ask your child how much time s/he thinks is appropriate to allocate to this activity and work together to ensure that this limit is adhered to. Describe the research evidence and what it means to your child. Ask questions of your child related to how they feel when they play video games, and how the rest of their lives (and your household) function.

By making this a ‘democratic’ discussion you will find that your child will typically be insightful, demonstrate awareness of the impact of gaming, and will develop sensible guidelines with you related to game time. As you discuss appropriate lengths of time for gaming, you will find that your child will be more likely to stick with the agreed to time. Arguments and power struggles will be less likely because s/he has committed to your family policy.

2. Be involved in decisions about what types of games are played. Encourage games that are played in your home are consistent with your family values. Again, invite your child to reflect on how game habits fit within your family. Games that require positive social interaction are best, as are games that increase mindfulness.

This is a strength of a product like the uDraw in that it facilitates creativity and imagination. Children listen to music that is soothing and fosters positive feelings, while they craft, invent, and develop original ideas through art.

Alternatively, they can play a game like Pictionary which revolves around positive social interaction with peers, parents, and siblings. It requires cognitive skills, imaginative thinking, and creativity and combines the use of these processes with in-person interaction. People smile, talk, and have fun while playing this game. This is why I am willing to endorse such a product. It’s aligned with positive cognitive behaviours, and positive social interactions.

3. Play with them. Parents are too busy to play games with their kids, right? Perhaps, but perhaps not. By turning game time into family time your children are more likely to adhere to your standards in terms of both time on gaming and also the types of games played. You are able to model appropriate use of these technologies by playing with them, and show them how to apply appropriate limits. This technology is here to stay and it is up to us as parents to work with our children in developing appropriate responses to its use. By discussing issues with them, being involved in choosing appropriate activities, and even participating with them, you will find that the games issue becomes less divisive and more unifying for your family.

Q3. Can gaming affect children's behaviour?
Gaming can affect children’s behaviour – for better or for worse. This is one of the key reasons that parents need to be informed, and actively engaged in working with their children to determine the most appropriate games to play, the most appropriate amount of time that should be spent, and alternative activities for children to keep them busy. I suggest the following:

1. Keep televisions and computers (and hand-held devices) out of children’s bedrooms. This is for safety and for life-balance.
2. Agree on what is appropriate usage of technology including amount of time and place of use
3. Agree on consequences of inappropriate use of technology
4. Be involved – all the time. Make decisions collaboratively and in an informed way, and be familiar with the games your children are playing. When they want a new game, play it or watch it at someone else’s house first. Research it with your child online and become familiar with it’s benefits or drawbacks.
5. Remember, some technologies are fine in moderation. Encourage your children to be involved in positive technologies.

Q4. My seven year old would love to play his games all day everyday! What are reasonable limits to set for kids?
Researchers strongly advise that children under two should not spend time in front of the television. From ages 2 to 5 approximately thirty minutes per day is seen as suitable, and up to an hour is appropriate for school-aged children. As teens, two hours of screen time per day would typically be sufficient.
These limits/guidelines may or may not work in your family. If they are unsuitable for any reason, it is up to you as a parent to determine what will work best for your family while maintaining an awareness that going beyond these limits can be detrimental to healthy child development.

Q5. How is the uDraw different to video games?
There are two key reasons that made me feel positively towards the uDraw. The uDraw is a game that offers the potential for promoting positive social interaction for all participants, particularly if you’re playing Pictionary. If children can be involved in a game that promotes and fosters positive relationships then they will experience benefits. uDraw offers this, as well as the potential for cooperation, collaboration, and prosocial behaviour generally.

Additionally, I see uDraw as promoting mindfulness, creativity, and a learning/mastery orientation towards the drawing/creation process. With uDraw there is no reason for a player to ‘react’ to what the game requires, because the studio is not really a game. It’s an art experience. The ‘player’ is really an artist and mindfully chooses how to create, organise, craft, and conceive and implement ideas. In this way cognitive powers are being used and cognitive skills are being developed.
Oh, and I LOVE the music. It is almost meditative and brings a peaceful feeling into the home as your child draws, creates, and uses his/her imagination.

Thankyou so much Justin for this interview and for your great advice. Justin Coulson is a renowned parenting educator and the Director of Training Organisation at Happy Families.

Do your children love playing their games? Do you have rules as to how much they can play?


Kellie said...

Really interesting interview. Mine little girls are only three and six months, so I'm not at this stage yet. But it's certainly something to think about for the future. As in question 4, we try and limit the amount of TV our eldest watches. Although, she's more interested in craft and drawing anyway!!

Be A Fun Mum said...

Excellent interview! For me, I don't mind the kids playing video games or watching TV sometimes. What I do try and do is raise them to think creatively...and so this means they don't tend to want to sit down in front of the TV all day and anything they do watch, turns into creative play.

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