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Know Thy Gamer: A Parent’s Guide to Video Games: Drew Dixon

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November 15, 2023 5:15 am

Know Thy Gamer: A Parent’s Guide to Video Games: Drew Dixon

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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November 15, 2023 5:15 am

Should you be ignoring or removing your kids video games? Expert Drew Dixon thinks they can actually be positive—when handled wisely.

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Learn more on how to navigate a heavy gaming relationship with Drew Dixon:

What kind of games your kids are playing? Check the rating

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One of the ways that we play video games to the glory of God is that God is the author of games and play and fun.

And those things are not counter biblical. I think we see a picture of God in the Bible of He's someone who values enjoyment, in fact commands that we give energy to finding things that we find enjoyable. I'm Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at This is Family Life Today. I think this is going to be a really fun and helpful conversation today. We have Drew Dixon with us. Drew, welcome to Family Life Today. Yeah, thanks for having me.

Excited to be here. So you wrote a book called A Parent's Guide to Video Games. Nose-eye gamer. I mean, you better be good at this stuff. I mean, honestly, this isn't what you do for a living. Some people might think you're a video game junkie, that's all you do. But you don't do that for a living, right? This is just a hobby? Yeah, well, it's a passion project in some ways. I've been writing about video games for over a decade from a Christian perspective. And so the book was a labor of love to help parents navigate that space with their kids because there's so many parents that are at their wits end because their kids are really into video games. They don't know what to make of that.

They don't know what to do with that. And I wanted to help parents love their children well and point them to Christ, whether they're gamers or not. So you're an author. Tell our listeners what else you do. Yeah, so I am an executive editor at Penguin Random House for Waterbrook and Multnomah. So two Christian imprints at Penguin Random House, which basically means I manage book projects. I acquire authors and have them write books for us.

And I love it. Before that, I was an editor in the curriculum space. So I was an editor at Lifeway for years, publishing church curriculum for student ministries. Before that, I was a pastor. But all during that time, I worked for a ministry called Love Thy Nerd. And actually, prior to that, I worked for a ministry called Game Church, which Game Church sought to bridge the gap between the gospel and the gamer.

They sought to bring the gospel to video game players all over the United States and all over the world. And that sort of evolved into Love Thy Nerd, which is this nonprofit I co-founded with some friends that seeks to be the love of Jesus to nerds in nerd culture. So we enter into nerdy spaces. When I say nerd, I mean like people who are into video games, comics, anime, board games, Dungeons and Dragons, all these things that the church sort of doesn't know what to do with. And we enter those spaces, build relationships with nerds, and try to point them to Jesus. Yeah, I mean, you mentioned the church doesn't know what to do with it.

Typically, it seems like the church or the Christian community just sort of, you know, judges it and says it's evil and wrong and run at all costs. And let's just be real. As parents, I'm just going to say we've had three boys, they all played video games. I was mad half the time. And I would be like, are we still, are you still playing video games?

What were you mad about? And I felt like, and honestly, I'm just gonna, I'm so glad you're here because maybe some parents feel like this, like, what a waste of time. And so I said some of those things. But I mean, even the title, Know Thy Gamer, you know, I like that you go into this and give us some helpful ways to understand it, to understand our kids, because I really didn't and I really didn't think this is the biggest waste of time. But they all still play video games. Like when we get together, you know, now we have six grandkids and they're in different parts of the country. But when we're together as a family, at some point, the three sons will go away. And they cannot wait to play an hour or so of a game together. It's like a bonding moment.

Yeah. Well, I think we're dispelling some fears here that a lot of people have because your kids turned out okay and they grew up playing video games. But yeah, I think that's a fear that so many Christian, well, just parents in general, but especially Christian parents who want to parent thoughtfully are worried that video games will ruin their kids. And I am here to say that, yes, you should be concerned about all kinds of things your kids might be into and you should be parenting thoughtfully and carefully around those things. But we've got to stop catastrophizing everything. And especially video games.

We think, oh, if my kids are too into video games, they're never going to get a good job. They're like not going to learn social skills. They're going to have terrible marriages. Right. Yeah. Their marriage will fall apart.

They won't live on mission. And it's just not true. And in fact, there's ways to play video games that brings glory to God and sends the message of Jesus' love out into the world. Okay. You got to explain that.

Brings glory to God. We have parents emailing us right now like, no, there isn't. But there is. Let's find out too. So you're a dad. You have three kids.

You're married. Were you a gamer? Oh, yeah. I grew up playing video games a lot. And it was a huge part of my childhood for sure. And, you know, honestly didn't have a lot of boundaries around them.

They were so new when I was a kid that my parents were just like, hey, you should go outside for a while. And I turned out okay. But then I went to seminary and I kind of was like, I don't have time for this. I need to read the theology books, you know. But then I got to be a pastor.

I was a pastor for five years. And it was actually during that time that I started playing video games again. Really? Yeah.

I just needed an outlet, something fun. And that's one of the great things. I think that is one of the ways that we play video games to the glory of God. Is that God is the author of games and play and fun.

And those things are not counter biblical. I think we see a picture of God in the Bible of He's someone who values enjoyment. In fact, commands that we give energy to finding things that we find enjoyable.

We need rest. We need times when we're not being productive anymore. And so, yeah, those concerns about video games keeping us from being productive members of society. I think there's some validity to that. But we also need to have a vision for what it means to be human that makes space for things that aren't productive and that are just enjoyable and that are just a good time. But I also will say that video games can be productive in a way and we can get into that. I was recently going through a file cabinet and I found a paper that one of our sons had typed up in high school. And the title was why video games are good for you. Was that CJ? Yes. No, it was Cody, actually, our youngest who plays less than anyone else, probably.

Yeah, that's interesting. We were at our middle son's house. He's got four kids, so four grandkids for us. And he has a great TV screen projector down his basement. It's the way to watch a movie. We're like, I'd rather watch a movie here than go to the theater. So anyway, we all watch this movie, put the kids to bed because he's got his oldest is eight. So it's just the adults, Austin and his wife, Ian and I.

The movie ends at midnight, right? As soon as it ends, Austin pulls up a game system. I don't know what he's playing. But he goes on and he goes, oh, hey, CJ's on.

So our oldest son living in Detroit is playing this game. So I go, what are you talking about? He goes, so he's talking to him on his headset.

They're playing this game together, which you know that world, right? And I go, CJ's up at midnight playing a video game right now, which I'm not discouraged or anything. I'm just like, wow, that's what he's doing. And then all of a sudden, CJ's gone. I go, Austin, where'd CJ go? He goes, oh, Robin came home. His wife came home. And he immediately turned it off.

And it doesn't mean he was getting caught. It means my wife's home. This isn't what I want to do right now. I'm going to turn off the game.

But I thought, isn't it interesting the world, because it could be the opposite. If you play too much, it could hurt your marriage. But if you have a boundary, right, it's okay? Yeah, I think so.

Coach us up. You're the expert. Yeah, for sure. I mean, there's reason to be concerned about overindulgence in video games for sure. There's a big conversation right now just in the medical community about video games being addictive and whether or not they should be clinically classified.

They have been now. There's a clinical classification in the ICD for video game addiction, the International Classification of Diseases. But statistically, it is not a huge percentage of our population that's addicted to video games. Something like 1% of all gamers would classify as addicted.

Now, that means to be clinically classified as addicted, you have to meet a certain set of criteria over a six-month period, over a certain period of time, right? So I'm not sitting around and waiting till my kids are meeting all that criteria before I go like, hey, let's develop some boundaries around this. But yeah, if you play video games in moderation with some boundaries around them, they can be good for us.

They have a lot of benefits. There are things that I don't like about the way my kids play video games. There are things that I regret about the way I engaged them in the past. Like what? Let's talk about some of that.

Sure. There were times when I overindulged, I think. I spent too much time playing video games in a way that for short stretches where I think I neglected my family, my wife in particular, because I was so into Minecraft.

That would be one. I know that's like a kid game. But when Minecraft first came out, it was amazing and incredible. And it wasn't considered really a kid's game. It was just this beautiful, creative game. And I loved playing it with friends. I got on a server.

We'd all build this world together. And it became something that I wasn't getting enough sleep and it was irritable. Yeah, that can happen and does happen a lot. And so that's why the Bible, like in the garden, God's giving boundaries, right? Because they're good for us. They bring protection.

They help us to flourish. So yeah, I think that's the biggest one that parents are concerned about and the one that I've experienced a few times. I think I would say for the majority of my life, though, I've had a pretty healthy relationship with video games.

But I've experienced enough of the loss of sleep, irritability, that I know I need some boundaries. As a parent, you've got a 12-year-old. How old are your kids again? Yeah, so 12, 9, and 5. Okay. And two girls and a boy.

Yes. And are girls playing video games as much as boys? My 12-year-old loves video games.

Really? She's a girl and she's super into it. She would play Roblox as kind of her jam. She likes Minecraft as well. And she would play either of those games all day if we didn't have boundaries. And that's the thing. Kids, you know, their brains aren't fully developed. They need us to be like, hey, here's some rules. I mean, what are your boundaries? And how'd you set them?

Yeah, so through trial and error, to be honest with you. And I say this in the book. I don't think there's one set of boundaries that works for every child around this subject of screen time in video games. Screen time's bigger than video games. I make the argument in the book that I think video games in some ways are a lot better type of screen time than just like watching YouTube or Netflix.

Or certainly scrolling social media. Like, get your kids off social media. That's my position on that. But that said, you know, yeah, through trial and error. And there's some ideas I give of how you could set some of those rules. But I think for us, the biggest thing is how you set them I think is maybe more important even than what they are. You know, how you go about creating boundaries for kids. That's the key to me.

What's that look like? Yeah, so I think your screen time rules should be collaborative. And so when I say that, I mean like involve your kids in the process of creating them. And when I say that, people freak out because they're like, you're saying to let my kids decide what their rules are going to be.

I'm not saying that. But what I am saying is invite them into the conversation. The ultimate goal of parenting, I believe, is to develop a lifelong relationship of trust with your children that is rooted in the love of Jesus. So the goal is not to win the video game battle.

The goal is to love my child. If I think about it that way, then that's a lot more helpful in terms of developing rules and boundaries, right? So we can all sit around the kitchen table and say like, hey, I can even do this. Say to my kids, hey, what do you think your screen time rules should be? And you'd be surprised, most kids, not every kid, some kids are going to be like, well, they shouldn't have any. They should just get to do whatever I want. But most kids know and want boundaries. They know they need them, they know they need them, and they actually want them. They might actually come up with some good ideas.

You'd be surprised. But you need to go into that conversation kind of knowing what you want the rules to be. But then let them be a part of the process so then they feel like they've been invited to the table.

They feel like you want a relationship with them, you know? Yeah, instead of you decided this, Mom and Dad, it's we talked about this and decided it. The relationship, in my opinion, and I think the research would bear this out, is so much more powerful than rules when it comes to discipleship and parenting. And so make it collaborative. We're going to come up with the family rules together and go into that conversation kind of knowing what you want them to be so that, you know, this is not the Wild West. There's going to be some rules, there's going to be some boundaries. So make them collaborative, write them down, and make them clear. Write them down?

Yeah, yeah. So everybody knows what the rules are. It's written down on the family whatever whiteboard or maybe you need something more permanent than whiteboard. So kids aren't like adjusting. I mean, we have those rules at a pool, you know, no running or whatever. It's like, are you saying there should be something agreed upon that they know and it's reminded like, yeah, this is a good thing, but it can be harmful if we break these rules. Yeah, because what you want to do is you want to set your kids up for success, right? You don't want those rules to be so detailed and so much fine print that your kids can't keep them.

They don't even remember them. So they're going to fail and they're going to get in trouble. Don't set your kids up for failure.

Set them up for success. So make them really clear that your rules should be simple enough that you can communicate them in 30 seconds or less. And so your kids know what they are and you've had that conversation so that they're prepared to respect them, right? I think rules are respected more when they're rooted in a relationship of love and trust. When kids know that their parents deeply love them, then those rules seem less oppressive and more life-giving. It's funny, our one son, he has three boys and a girl, but he has a six, a five, and a three-year-old son. And the six-year-old and five-year-old are allowed to play video games on Saturday for a certain amount of time.

So I'm there, Dave's there, and Saturday comes and Porter cannot wait. Nani, you have got to come in the basement and watch me play video games. I am really good at it. And I'm thinking I'd rather poke my eye out with a stick. That's what I'm thinking.

This sounds awful. But of course I didn't say that. I said, yes, I can't wait to watch you play video games. He really was good.

Yeah, he's really good. But they know it's coming. And he wasn't resentful that he's not—are they? They look forward to Saturday. They get it on Sunday too. Yeah, they do too. They get just the weekends.

That's so funny. My kids get a little bit of time during the week, but we have screen-free days. That's kind of what we do. We have three screen-free days during the week and then the other days of the week. On school days, they get a limited amount of time, like an hour a day those days. And then on the weekend, we give them more. And we're more open too. Our rules are flexible on the weekends because we'll give them a bit more time too if they're playing with friends.

I think that's better. If you're going to be on screens, I'd rather them be hanging out with their friends and playing together. That's a different type of play, in my opinion, than just the socially isolating type of video game play that we think of stereotypically with video games. I think the thing that scared me with our kids too was online play became a thing as they got into high school, which freaked me out. I'd come down like, who are you playing with?

I don't know, some guy. So as a parent, that worried me. And then today you hear all this trafficking that's going on with our kids. Is that something we should worry about or put boundaries around in that area?

Yeah, absolutely. I think so, especially with younger children. As your kids get older, you may allow them to do some online gaming. There are ways to use parental controls on a lot of the video game platforms like PlayStation or Xbox or Nintendo Switch. You can set up parental controls that keep them from playing with people you don't know. So there's ways to keep them to where they can only play online with people who are on their approved friends list.

But none of these parental controls are like foolproof protection against predation. So yeah, I think we should absolutely be careful about our kids playing online. It's a catch-22 though, because as they get older and mature and we can trust them more, I would rather them play with other people than by themselves. And there's a lot of the benefits that come from video games are social. Most people today are playing video games socially. They're not playing by themselves, they're playing with other people.

And there's opportunity there. Just like you said, your son was playing with one of your other sons online. Across the country. Across the country and it's a way for them to bond and have fun together. And the same is true for our kids.

I think a great way to bond with your children is to play video games with them. And within reason, I'm not saying that you play all day and neglect all your other responsibilities. But yeah, there's social connection, there's team building, there's creative problem solving in the context of relationship that can happen in those spaces that's really good for us.

I mean, it's funny. You're talking about all these benefits that sound great. And so many parents, at least in church world and the Christian world, think, oh, video games are almost evil.

Sure. Like there's no benefits. What do you say to the parent that has that perspective? Like, you're never going to play, we're never going to get in the game system because it's just, I don't know if it'd be evil, but it's a waste of time. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I guess I would say, this is a little bit of a like Jesus juke, but you know, we shouldn't call common things that God has made good, right? Like it's part of God's good creation. And so we are really good as human beings of taking good things and corrupting them and using them and engaging them in ways that actually bring chaos and destruction and actually bring harm to us and to the people around us. But because we're made in the image of God, we're also gifted and equipped to engage good things in ways that lead to flourishing, to human flourishing, that actually do good to our neighbor.

So I don't think you can paint them one way or the other. There's good to be found in the world of video gaming. There is also, there are also things to be concerned about. Well, we got a parent right now that's going to give us a question. Let's do that. One of our own, Ryan Ganay, Family Life staff member, researcher, video gamer. Yeah. We thought let's let him ask the expert Drew sitting here question.

So here's the question and love to hear your response. Hey Drew, thanks for coming on to Family Life today. I'm Ryan. I'm 32. I've been a video game player pretty much all my life. So I've seen the industry change and grow. I'm well aware of how big the video game industry is, and it just dwarfs all other entertainment industries knowing that it's a big economic machine. Game developers are doing everything they can to keep players coming back. When I was growing up, I struggled quite a bit with game addiction.

It creates this world that I want to escape to. In those days, it was a lot easier to pinpoint the reasons why you shouldn't play a certain game. Right. We've sort of gone from Pong on Atari to porn and Grand Theft Auto. And it's easy to point those things out and say that sex and violence in games is a reason to stay away. But what's not that easy to point out is a lot more nuanced is addiction, playing a game that's seemingly good, but it's just so good you can't walk away from it. And knowing when to walk away, having that discernment.

I struggle with it as an adult, but I'm also worried about it for my kids. So what could we do about that? Yeah. I wish I could tell you, don't play X, Y, and Z. Play A, B, and C instead. But I don't think it's that simple. There are some things to be aware of, like loot boxes and free-to-play games. I think are things we should be concerned about. But it's not that simple.

I think it really comes down to knowing your children. Because there are going to be some games that they're not necessarily trying to get you to come back. They're not designed insidiously. They're just fun. They're just really fun so we end up wanting to play them more than we want to do the dishes. If that's how you feel you're a normal human being, I would much rather play video games than mowing the lawn.

But I know I need to mow the lawn. So when it comes to your kids, you just need to know them. I think develop a close relationship with them so that you can help them develop those boundaries around how much they play. But I would say don't freak out if your kid hates doing chores and loves playing Fortnite. They're just a normal human being, if that's the case. So don't freak out about it.

But I think you need a parent with more than just the on and off switch. So it's not just about how much they can play, but it's about having conversations around what they're into and why. Constantly talking about that and listening. Make an effort to listen to them and why they're into the games that they're into. But yeah, there are some games I think we need to steer away from. Bottom line, kids need boundaries. There's a very, very small subset. Probably like less than 1% of kids that don't need boundaries are on video games because they're into so many other things.

You know, there is the rare kid who's like really into soccer and art and they play video games maybe 30 minutes or an hour a week or something. And they may not need boundaries, but everybody else does. The majority of them do. Kids are not good at self-regulation. Adults are not, to be honest with you.

I was going to say adults aren't either. We have a little system here and I play Galaga. You ever play it? Yeah, of course. I mean, it's an old, old game.

Yeah, it's classic. And I can get just caught, you know, want to get to the next level, next level, next level. And then I'm trying to beat my son's high score.

I can get it. I mean, it feels like an addiction. It's like I can't turn this off. And there's good and bad to that because like video games present us with this idea of like if you play again, you could do better. Which is like a really empowering and beautiful thought that is true of like there's a parable there for life.

Like if you keep trying, you could get better. That's true. And there's some good in that. But the insidious part, the dangerous part is that you could also waste away time that you should be giving to like, you know, your family or to spiritual formation. Your wife wants to talk, though.

And this is so much easier than communicating. What I was going to say with Ryan's question was if our kids have any kind of addiction where they just, it may not be video games. It's anything where they're just losing themselves in it.

It feels like they're trying to escape. We can do that as adults, too. I think as a parent, I'm watching that thinking what's going on that's making them want to get out of reality. And so to go deeper into their lives of asking questions, and I know with teenagers, they're not always going to answer that question right off the bat.

But you keep asking. Exactly. And you do things with them that are fun that you're entering their world so that you're opening that door to find out.

If they're in pain, you want to know what it is. You know, when it comes to things like video games, we're trying to figure out the deeper things in both our lives and in the lives of our kids, because it's hard work for sure. But it's really where the real gold is to be mined.

It's where the lasting impact is going to happen. So we've got to ask the question under the question when we're talking about things related to our kids and our own hearts with things like video games. I love this conversation. I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to David Ann Wilson with Drew Dixon on Family Life Today. Drew has written a book called Know Thy Gamer, a parent's guide to video games. So if you feel like you don't have any idea how to approach this subject with your kids, you need a little bit of help or a lot of help. You can go to and click on today's resources to get your copy of Drew's book. Or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329.

That's 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. You know, if you love conversations like the one you heard today, I just want to remind you that Family Life Today is a donor supported ministry. And we rely on partners to help conversations like this happen and to help this ministry go forward, help parents and marriages and families. We're just really dedicated to that, and we like to link arms with people just like you in order to make that happen. And the cool thing right now is that if you partner with us, any monthly partner, we're going to give them a Weekend to Remember gift card that you can use to attend any marriage getaway. You can keep it for yourself or you can give it to another couple. So you can go online to and click on the donate now button at the top of the page to partner with us. Or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329.

And that's 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. Now coming up tomorrow, how can you actually build relationships through the avenue of video games? It's an interesting question, and Drew Dixon is going to be back tomorrow with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about just that. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-15 06:24:34 / 2023-11-15 06:36:34 / 12

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