Have you been in this situation before? Sunday afternoon, -30° outside, the family just came in from a morning of outdoor activities and we are recovering with hot chocolate. Where is the rest of the day going to take us? I glance at my wife as we both know the inevitable question from our children is about to come; “Can we now go on screens?”

We embrace the lazy days with enthusiasm and believe the importance for our kids having to learn how to “make their own fun.” Yet, our children’s imaginary play will only get so far before a crash eventually comes or a scream from an “injured” child derails the short and sweet play. Did I mention I have three boys all under the age of 12?

When I think back to my childhood, those lazy Sundays were combined with outdoor play and videogames. Back in those days, no one thought twice about allowing us to sit in front of a screen trying to complete Mario Bros. or win the Super Bowl in Tecmo Bowl, yet, as our society has migrated online, the idea of videogames now brings a negative connotation, with research pointing to their addictive qualities and increased isolation in youth. Behaviorally, prolonged use of videogames creates a vortex that sucks our kids in, takes hold of their brains and turns them into dysregulated and irrational beings. I’ve witnessed it with my own children, the post-screen tantrum where my 5-year-old’s alter ego comes out, the self-proclaimed Boss Baby.

How did we get here? Where did the ‘fun’ go? Are parents now more educated about gaming? Are the games now so real, that kids can’t decipher fact from fiction? Are videogames designed to manipulate youth and get them addicted? The answer, sadly, to some degree is yes. Does that mean games should be banished? Are we to hold our kids to a higher standard to that which our parents did for us? For me, the answer is no and yes.

What occurred naturally for us as kids who grew up during the evolution of gaming was the ability to intuitively instill balance. We instinctively created an appropriate balance of outdoor play and indoor passivity. We played with gusto, exhausted ourselves on the playgrounds or neighborhood streets with friends, yet we also sat criss-crossed applesauce on our living room floors and had our fair amount of screen-time. Kids today can’t naturally find that balance. That’s where it fails. Screens are like moths to a flame for them and they require us, the adults, to navigate their day and attempt to keep them well-regulated and balanced.

For the record, I am not against gaming. In fact, I am a firm believer that videogames have so much to offer our children. The intricate games created today, with development budgets larger than Hollywood movies, can provide our kids with critical thinking skills, teamwork, collaboration and my favourite, effective communication. The games of today are immersive and imaginative. They speak to our children much the same way Mario, Zelda and others spoke to us. In our family we focus on the balance, nothing too violent, nothing too time consuming, enough outdoor play mixed with sedentary time and most importantly, the social component.

In my humble opinion, it’s our job as parents to teach our kids about the importance of balance and how to be critical consumers, so when confronted with unnecessary violence in games or inappropriate content (across all digital platforms), they can navigate their way and become digital citizens, as my sons’ school likes to call it.

As a father, former educator, and coach, I’ve thought long and hard about what influence and role this ‘common threat’ of games will play in the lives of our youth. I certainly see the risk and I see where many families go wrong, but I can most certainly also see the reward. The reward is not in the game itself, per se, but in the experience and the interaction. I draw on my childhood days with my best friend, Jordan, and I see what we gained from our Sunday afternoons. It wasn’t completing Mario Bros. or scoring at will in Tecmo Bowl, but it was us being together, working towards a common goal, both at the playground and on the screen.

Screens are an inevitable part of our children’s daily lives. So, I ask myself, if this is their world, and I preach balance and ‘everything in moderation,’ how do I create experiences on and off the screen for them that is social and designed in a way that provides opportunities for growth and skill building? For me, the answer was to help shape the videogame industry. Along with two other fathers, we created a gaming community that allows our kids to lean into their videogame passion and play with gusto while also fostering skills necessary for daily life! We believe that teaching digital hygiene and creating a balanced play environment with a healthy dose of social engagement is where gaming is at and the direction the gaming industry needs to move. As an organization, we work with schools to build a team mentality, like that of other athletes on traditional teams.

Many gamers only feel a sense of belonging with their ‘online community’ and we believe that legitimizing game play and fostering a team environment through the schools, will bring these children in from the fringes and from the confines of their basements to join the student body by representing their school. Esports is an activity that that can engage all children, including those who might not have an interest in traditional sport, music, theater, etc.

Personal growth begins at an early age and is mostly shaped by parents, teachers, and the environment. I love playing videogames with my children. I love to see them persevere through the difficult levels and communicate with each other as they navigate their way through the game’s challenges. I love watching them get frustrated and stick their tongues out as they concentrate. I love watching them develop skills in real-time and their smiles when they succeed. Yet, the best part about playing videogames with my kids is watching them apply their new skills to the “real world” after the screens are shut off and they’ve asked me to go outside and play! Balance and choosing to use technology purposefully is where it’s at, and the gamification of developing lifelong skills as a competitor, teammate, and responsible individual is where it’s at, and all of this is at Esports.

Written by Darren Morenstein