There must be gamer parents out there who love when their kids are gamers, too. I, however, am not a gamer, and I don’t quite understand my son’s obsession with playing video games for hours upon hours. Madden, NBA2K, Minecraft, and Fortnite are his favorites. He plays them, talks about them, watches TikToks and YouTube videos about them, watches livestreams of other people playing them, and trades tips with other players to gain any advantage. He plays in groups, one on one with friends, and alone. Gaming is king. I hear about it incessantly, and I hardly understand any of it. Honestly, video games interest me about as much as reading the Common Core State Guidelines.
What does interest me? My son. I adore him and want to spend time with him. Which is why, if he invites me to watch him game, I’m going to do it, even if I must feign interest. (Which I must.) Why? Because watching him game is an opportunity to create a shared experience and it opens the door to conversation and bonding.
Maybe you’re facing a similar situation—your teen wants to share their passion about something that holds no interest for you? Don’t worry, I got you. Here’s how I do it.
Bonding with my Son Over Video Games
I Feel Honored
It’s rare that my son seeks me out to spend time together. Usually when we’re out in public, he wants me to walk 15 paces ahead of him or he’s on his phone ignoring me. Inviting me to spend time with him? This is BIG. Yes, his invitation might be because none of his friends are online or he’s bored—either way, quality time! My son actually wants to spend time with me!
I thank him. I tell him there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing, and it’s true. I’m psyched he’s choosing to spend time with me. I’m honored. But also, I play it cool, because too much enthusiasm could scare him off. I bring a blanket and pillow to get cozy. He’s a solid and enthusiastic player and odds are, I’ll be there a while.
I Try to Show Interest
As my son sees it, I’m there for one reason only: to watch him dominate in gaming amid all the noise, lights, action, and general confusion. My motivation for being there is different—I want to build a more loving relationship with my son—which means, I have to do more than just watch, I have to take notice.
The amount of interest I show while he’s gaming depends on how much my teen wants me to be an active participant. Now is not the time to catch up on my reading or to start a new knitting project, but sometimes I can get away with merely being present in the room as a quiet observer and supporter. Other times, my son wants to know I’m watching intently, so I need to ask questions or react with exclamation marks to everything. I’ve learned enthusiastic comments like “Sweet pass!” and “Why is that banana dressed like James Bond?” are welcome. Comments indicating my frustration like, “If you want to play in ‘creative mode,’ why don’t you just go outside?!” are not.
I Pace Myself
My teen is a fickle creature. I never know how long his interest in hanging out with me will last. I might be watching until bedtime, so I’ve learned to pace my enthusiasm and rest when the game action is slow. If he catches me not paying attention, I tell him something like, “I’m just resting my eyes for a minute because of the screen glare.” Not entirely accurate, but look, while he’s playing a video game, I’m playing the long game. And it can be looooonnnnng.
Hydration and Snacks Are Crucial
One way I sneak a much-needed break is by offering to get snacks and drinks for my growing gamer when he’s too deep in battle to pause or stop play. Another way is by always making sure I stay hydrated. The more water I drink, the more bathroom breaks I need, which gives me a legitimate excuse to leave the room and momentarily escape to do something for myself, like check social media, or I don’t know, scream into a pillow or bang my head against a wall. (Why am I watching him game again? Oh, right, because I love him and want to spend time with him.) I always remember to grab more water on the way back in!
Changing the Game
At my son’s request, we’ve spent a good chunk of time together while I watch, cheer, question, observe, and show interest in an activity he loves. We have something to talk about, and who knows, over time it may even turn into a mutual hobby. The main thing is, the more interest I show in my son’s hobby, the more I signal that I’m interested in my son as a person, which naturally makes him want to spend more time with me. In our family, that’s a game changer.