Can Minecraft Teach our Kids the Art of Small Talk?

The Nook

We have fallen into the video game rabbit hole with our older children. After years of resisting the DS–whatever number–and doling out our phones to one child at a time to play a game while the others hovered around the four inch screen, I opened the flood gates and bought the two nine year olds and the two seven year olds Nooks for Christmas.

I reasoned that they would read books on it and then occasionally play video games on it–like during our 15+hour drive to Denver. (Please, don’t laugh at my naivete.) Plus, with four of them, they had overtaken my computer and my phone and even though I’d say no and tried to set boundaries, they were constantly on my electronics or baggering me about using them.

So the Nooks seemed like a good solution. But, they have taken on a life of their own.

Just last week I went to wake up Luke and Will for school and Will was playing on his Nook–sometime between the time I tucked him in and the morning he got out his Nook. Shocked to find him playing, I immediately sternly asked, “Have you been playing ALL NIGHT?!” No, mommy, just for the last half hour. Then he fell asleep on the floor and slept seven straight hours–I kid you not.

My nemesis (and Will’s) is Minecraft.

Recently NPR did a segment on the addictiveness of video games. Like junk food, video games are  formulated to be addictive–to want you to crave more. Even worse, the programmers of these games are changing the games as the child plays to keep the child playing. Talk about manipulating  young minds!

And yet, I don’t feel that totally banning the gaming devices (I’ll just drop the fallacy that much reading is occurring on them for the seven year olds) is not the solution either.

But today I realized that the games might be causing another issue. As Will and I stood at the counter of the eye doctor’s office, I was paying the bill and setting up a follow-up appointment and Will was playing a game on my phone.  I realized a possible long term affect of video playing during every “free” or “boring” moment of the child’s life: the child is not watching the parent.

Why is this important? Parent modeling.

You see, even when I’m doing the somewhat mundane tasks of my life–driving, talking to a receptionist, grocery shopping and talking to the produce manager, chit-chatting with my mother-in-law–you name the activity even if it SEEMS INCONSEQUENTIAL–I’m modeling how I interact with the outside world. Am I polite? Do I try to make small talk? Do I compliment someone? How exactly do I complain if something is bothering me? How do I advocate for myself and my family? HOW DO I ASK QUESTIONS IF I DON’T UNDERSTAND SOMETHING?

This last one is HUGE because asking questions is one of the most important skills in life.

Children learn first and foremost by watching their parents. They learn how to engage, navigate, question, support, prod, cheer–EVERYTHING–by watching how the most significant people in their lives do it. The schools can’t teach this. . .not really. And they don’t get this information through osmosis. They get it the same way babies learn about their world around them: they watch others. Just think about how many times in a day you are interacting with people you and how many times your children see you (or not) do these things.

Our children are learning through each and every interaction we have with other people.

When our children’s faces are in a video game (and subsequently they are tuning out the rest of the world around them) they aren’t learning these life skills.  Malcolm Gladwell writes about this in his book Outliers (a book that I think every parent should readwhen he talks about how children from higher socio economic groups are better at self advocating–they are better at talking to professionals because they’ve had more experience doing it. Namely, they are watching their parents and then interacting (or practicing) with the world around them.

I don’t have any answers.

Scott and I have struggled when and where to allow gaming time. The obvious places are ALWAYS off limits: never during school, at any meals, or when you are supposed to be sleeping. But, what about those times in the car. . .are they missing out on learning their way around the city when they are constantly playing a game? What about when we are waiting in the doctor’s office or paying a bill? What about the times we are at the grocery store? We want to keep them occupied. . .but is there a cost for that?

I’d love to hear what has worked (or not for other parents). Do you worry about your child not learning how to be polite, make small talk, ask questions. . .because they too seem to always have their faces turned to a game rather than to you? What restraints have you put?




I am a mother of two sets of twins and a singleton. I explore the wild world of multiples and provide resources for other parents of multiples.
  1. Excellent post, you’ve given me a bit to chew on here. It’s kind of like the reverse of Rachel’s book Hands Free Mama. I haven’t read it yet … but I know her reasoning behind it. I’ve got it on my nightstand, think I’ll pull it out but think of it from multiple points of view as I digest it.

    1. Stacy, I’ve heard of that book, too, but haven’t read it. I think it needs to be on my nightstand as well! I feel sorely inadequate in navigating this world–especially with the multiple users in my house!

  2. My daughter communicates with her friends and brother by playing the same game at the same time. They laugh, make fun and argue. It looks like playing outside or with cars and dolls.
    My problem is that they almost do not move. She is 7 and her brother is 5 years old.

    1. I think that that lack of movement is a big issue as well. The “digital world” doesn’t promote much “physical” exploration.

  3. My kids have not yet begun to use video games, and we’re very deliberately postponing that eventuality. I know other 3-yos who are very possessive of their parents’ iPads, and it doesn’t seem to negatively affect them, we just didn’t go that way.

    Anyway, my initial thought is that you might want to approach it from a maximum usage perspective. I wonder if there’s some kind of governor application that will power down the machine when it’s been used for its maximum daily allotment. It would save you from having to be the monitor.

Leave a Reply to Meredith in SA Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *