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Managing your relationship with your kids and video games is a tough balancing act. Let’s not get too focused on how old anybody is, but let’s just say I am old enough to remember the Atari 2600 coming out. Naturally, I liked Space Invaders and Asteroids like everybody else but I enjoyed outdoor sports far much more than any video game. As the years passed video game consoles became more evolved but I still never cared too much.

A few years ago my son, who at the times was in the fifth grade, told me he won the World Cup in Brazil. I looked in his room and lo-and-behold a panoramic view of the stadium fills the screen (It was pretty cool). I smiled at my son and walk him out to the front yard and put a soccer ball in front of him.

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“Pass me the ball son” I ask lovingly.

Everything he kicked went everywhere but to me. I explain to him that when I was a kid, the value of video games were built on how much it compared to the real game. I asked “If you don’t know how exciting the real game is, how can you know if this video game is truly fun?”

Despite being quite young he understood what I was saying and we made a deal: In order to play any video game, he would earn gaming time by physically playing the game and studying its history. Half an hour of reading would get him half an hour of video game play. This was a huge undertaking for me as a parent because every time he gets hooked on a new game, I have to be available to play and I have the research books for him to read.

For years my wife and I never allowed any games with guns into the house. As he got older and worked to keep his character and grades in order we made a new deal: He could play war games if he read military history and watched documentaries I choose, on war. I did not want him to have illusions about how “fun” and “cool” war was like the majority of his friends.

I started by having him read selections from Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, The Japanese classic Book of Five Rings and other online articles I found on military history and strategy. To hear a 13 year old talk about the lives of Napoleon Bonaparte, Joan of Arc or Shaka Zulu is very exciting. This method has surely helped mature him and make him a more engaged citizen of the world.

The first documentary we watched was on Afghanistan, called Restrepo. It starts with U.S. soldiers in a Hummer driving on a desolate road. “Hey, this is just like my video game!” he exclaims.

“Keep watching” I tell him.

Boom! The Hummer is ambushed and things get very real.

“They don’t show you that part of it on Modern Warfare do they son”?

He silently shook his head. The movie does not have a lot of graphic violence, but it does illustrate the emotional toll of war on all its participants. These exercises gave us both a deeper understanding of world history. Plus we get a lot of quality time together that has already proven to be priceless. What kind of things do you use to balance your kids relationship to the real world and video games? Please post your ideas in the comments section.

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