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Once you hook up that video game console to a screen in your home, you’ve made a family decision.

Video gaming becomes part of your parenting strategy. Good or bad. You own that choice.

That little box will be a bargaining chip. It will carry social implications. The games will compete for time devoted to studies, sleep and perhaps even personal hygiene. 

Video gaming itself uses a powerful parenting tactic.

How exactly?

Video games employ a basic tenet of psychology known as positive reinforcement. Sounds pleasant enough, right?

Well positive reinforcement can reinforce negative behavior too; that’s part of the function.

In the video game world, players can get rewarded for a variety of actions depending on the game.

Some players rejoice when they brutally kill off a character or steal a wallet. Popular games like Call of Duty and Battlefield use realistic warfare to defeat the enemy.

But all video games aren’t about shooting people. There are plenty of games that promote prosocial behaviors.  Some games offer opportunities for players to complete humanitarian missions. Other games allow users to engage in social issues. And of course games can provide cognitive perks.

Regardless of the game, points are rewarded, or a player earns advancement to the next level for completing the game’s mission. Behavior gets reinforced.

But video games are an imaginary world. So what does that have to do with parenting?

Remember when your child played make-believe as a little kid? During that stage of childhood development, you were limited in how much influence you had over what superpowers your child pretended to embody, or where they visited in a time machine.

Well, now you have control over this imaginary world.

Take charge of your child’s video game world. You can have a great influence over the world your child escapes to when they are looking to be entertained.

And while it’s unlikely that a video game would turn an upstanding citizen into a criminal, research shows that there is a link between playing violent games and aggression. Why allow your child to be part of a negative imaginary world?

Would you ever give your kid an allowance for brutally attacking another person?

Or snatching someone else’s valuables?

Hopefully not.

When you grant your child permission to play a game with moral ambiguities, criminal activities or gory violence, you take part in the cycle of positive reinforcement. By giving the okay, or passively turning a blind eye, you reward your child for their desire to engage in activities that are inappropriate.

Their reward, in this case, is playing the game. And then they are rewarded again by earning points throughout the game. See how applicable this psychology principle is to parenting?

By teen years, more than 80% of kids possess a gaming system or can easily find access to one. So start a positive video game culture in your home early on. Use video games for good.


A Parent’s Guide to Positive Video Gaming 
  •  Utilize the Entertainment Software Rating Board to determine which games may be appropriate for your child based on their age. The ratings also show content descriptors which can clue parents in if the game has elements of items like sexual violence, use of drugs or nudity.
  • Understand the interactive features of the game. Does the game use voice chat? In what capacity do users connect with other players? Are there text features?
  • Make gaming a family endeavor and set up the video game console in a common area so there is adult supervision.
  • Put time limitations on video games in your household using parent control functions. Another idea is that parents can hide the game controllers.
  • Check out games that provide learning opportunities. Common Sense Media offers ratings for learning.
  • Use game time as an incentive. For instance, give your child opportunities to earn game time by completing chores or engaging in activities like reading. Maybe two hours of reading could earn 30 minutes of gaming time.
  • Video gaming can have positive implications, so don’t discourage your child’s interest in video gaming if it’s something they love.
  • Get educated on the gamer communities. Games can have their own culture. Do the users engage in negative chat and use inappropriate language? Can players vote to kick another player out of a game? Check forums and do your own research.
  • Play a game with your kid. Even if you don’t like the game, this is an opportunity to connect with your child. Use it.


  1. I do like that your article began with the premise that once a gaming system is allowed in the home parents have essentially committed themselves to a collateral set of household leadership challenges. Whereas a gaming system might be viewed – myopically – as a sort of “electronic babysitter” to distract the kids. Perhaps it’s a net-negative once responsible management of those systems are figured into a responsible parenting strategy. Lots to think about. Glad you shed light on the issue and opened a discussion!

    Ps: Also (maybe a future article?), what about not allowing gaming systems period? Especially given the adult content and social/live-interaction features that are standard to contemporary games. Any recommended strategies for parents that don’t want that competing influence in the household to begin with? Thanks!

    • Great insight, Kevin! Thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful comment. You raise an interesting point about how parents can successfully say no to their kid when it comes to technology. Along the same lines, I know many parents feel a tremendous sense of guilt when they’ve decided not to purchase a cell phone for their child. Just because these technologies are ubiquitous that doesn’t mean that it’s right for their family. I’m thinking your on to something for a future post:)

  2. Great way to start a conversation about gaming and both the positive and negative impact that games can have on youth. In my work, I see increased gaming even amongst young elementary-aged children. I think it cabin be difficult for parents to set limits…life is so busy…your article gave lots of great suggestions!

  3. Thanks for your comments! Kristin, you make a good point that gaming is reaching younger and younger audiences. Many young parents have their own gaming equipment already in the home. And even if it’s not video gaming in the traditional sense, there are a host of games that are readily accessible on our phones, tablets, computers, etc. It’s tough. But you are exactly right, parents need to set stern limitations when it comes to any technology:) I appreciate you stopping by to read!

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