My fifth kid recently turned one year-old, so believe me when I say the precious initial parenting instincts have been well and truly beaten out of me.
I'm done with the hand-laundered cloth diapers, the idea that I'll be able to make three meals a day of healthy food hasn't been entertained in years, and when multiple kids are sick I go into survival mode instead of worrying about being the perfect parent. These days I'm more worried about everyone getting through the day alive versus having a clean house and perfectly scrubbed children.
This is what I've learned when it comes to video games.
They make great baby sitters
Television and video games can certainly be abused by parents who want to get out of paying for a babysitter from time to time, and I gotta tell you: It's great.
I've shoved iPods and 3DS' at the children to have a peaceful meal out, I've taken out the Wii U when I wanted to take a quick nap, and I've been known to throw the older kids at the television downstairs to play games so I can focus on the younger kids. Video games grab and keep the attention of children in a way that's rare even with television and books they enjoy, and being the parent of this many children has taught me that you grab every advantage and trick you can.
Let the electronics babysit your kids from time to time. Maybe you need to make dinner, maybe you're trying to take a break, or maybe it's time for you and your partner to have some adult alone time, if you know what I mean. Don't be afraid to throw games at the kids and run the other way.
This can be abused, sure, but it can also be used, and it's effective. God bless the power of video games, I'm done feeling guilty about using it in this way. They've made it easier to raise this many kids, and I adore them for it.
It won't matter if kids play M-rated games from time to time. Even "that one"
A parent and co-worker once contacted me to ask what he should do about a situation that developed with his family. He had found out, shock of shocks, that one of his children had been playing Grand Theft Auto at a friend's house. That they've been playing the game for weeks. What should he do?
Here's the reality of the situation: He cares enough about his kids that he was able to take a breath, look at the situation, and talk to someone who knows a bit about both parenting and video games so that he could take care of his children in the best way possible.
He didn't need to do anything, he's already proven that he's engaged with his children's pop culture life and willing to interact with them. His kids will do fine, even if they sneak an M-rated game from time to time.
What's important is they have answers ready
As long as you care, if you pay attention and talk to your children about what they play, they're going to be fine. It's not what happens when they play the game that matters, it's what happens around those moments. It's not about keeping them from any and all questionable content, it's about giving them the framework needed to process it and the feeling of security that's required if you want them to come to you for advice or guidance if they see something that truly bothers me.
That being said, when my kids go over to someone's house we ask the parents a few questions: Are there guns in the house? What are their rules for M-rated games? There isn't an answer that's necessarily a deal-breaker to either question: I let my kids play certain M-rated games and after living in the South my whole life I don't have strong feelings about gun ownership.
What's important is they have answers ready, answers that show they've given it some thought, or they have a plan for keeping both things away from the kids. It's not a litmus test, I don't care what they play or what guns they own, it's just to show that they're thoughtful and aware of what's going on in their own home.
I got some good news for you: If you're reading this, you probably have a pretty decent plan for your kids and gaming anyway and there's not much insight I can share that you don't already have. You know your kids better than I do. But having a plan and being aware are both much more important than the specifics.
Limiting screen time is kind of bullshit
I know many parents with strict limits to how much time kids can spend in front of a screen, whether it's their phone, or the television, or a video game, or whatever else. It always felt defeating to me; I really don't care if my kid is reading on an iPad while listening to Taylor Swift, the important thing is that they're reading. What they're doing on that screen is way more important to me than the fact they're in front of it.
On the other hand, my son's school has a rule about comic books: They have a good collection of comics, but you can only check them out from the library if they're getting A's and B's. It struck me as bullshit at first, I don't think comics are inherently any better or worse than other kinds of reading, but then I saw him cramming on his Latin homework so he could keep up with the X-men and I learned to live it.
It's a cheap ploy, but hell ... kid is getting great grades and I'm reading the comics he brings home after he goes to sleep. Everyone wins.
What they're doing on that screen is way more important to me than the fact they're in front of it.
But I don't like to limit screen time. I don't think playing Minecraft is any worse or better than playing in the words. I don't think it's less creative than painting a picture. I don't limit the amount of time he spends with his Lego bricks.
It's all about making sure this stuff happens in moderation, and that they're also active and have hobbies away from the screens, but kicking them off a game or a great show or an e-Book so they can do some other arbitrary thing around the house? Please. They read more because of screens, and God bless 'em for that.
What about everything else?
Do your best. You wouldn't freak out about your kid reading a book they shouldn't have, and it's pretty much the same thing. The important thing when it comes to games is not to be scared of them, and to make sure you know what your kids are playing and why. Ask them questions about it.
Watch them play if you can, and play with them if at all possible. The most important thing is to show up, and to be there for them. This sounds like simple advice, but it really can be that simple. The rest boils down to tricks: Don't hide the M-rated games, hide the controllers. Never, ever explain how to delete browser history. Don't be afraid to change the password on the router often, and only give it out when homework is done.
So don't be afraid to use games as baby sitters from time to time, don't worry about limiting screen time if they have a well-rounded slate of activities, and if they sneak an M-rated game? It's not a huge deal. The people who care enough to go online and read about games and how to handle them well tend to do just fine, and if you don't care? Sadly there's not a guide in the world that will be able to help.