Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

Why do my sons love watching videos of other people playing video games?

Even though I limit their screen time, I find myself confused by this online activity
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 04/29/2019 at 10:00 AM EDT
My boys watching a video of someone else playing a video game

Sometimes I read things in the news about “things kids are doing these days” and I just cannot relate. Whether it’s eating detergent pods (more likely urban legend than actual popular activity, I hope!), or silly things like kids eating copious amounts of candy, or even more serious and potentially dangerous things like getting high on “bath salts, the news reports of “what kids are doing” generally doesn’t apply to most of us.

However, there is something I know your kids are doing, which mine are doing too, and it’s time we talked about it: my children spend a large percentage of their screen time watching videos of other people playing video games. While they also like to play these video games themselves, I would guess from my amateur 50% parenting assessment, that they watch videos four times as often than they actually spend playing them.

Now, in case you have been spared this phenomenon (which I want to label tragic, but I don’t want to be dramatic) let me explain what I’m talking about. People who are very good at playing video games set up a camera facing their face while a split screen simultaneously broadcasts what they’re playing. So you are watching the screen of their computer and their little face in the corner as they play.

I know, you’re already riveted, right?

In addition, the video game player who is the star of the video talks throughout the entire game. They basically narrate what they are doing and why. That is all.

And children watch these videos. A lot.

Sometimes the player is funny or quirky, so it’s amusing, and they’re also fairly tame. They’re not naked! They aren’t covered in chocolate sauce! But at the same time, they’re also not discussing the plight of the endangered lemurs of Madagascar. They’re not even discussing politics! These videos exist in a weird in-between space that I simply don’t connect with.

What would I rather my kids do with their time? You know: normal kid stuff like what we all did back in the day before watching videos of people playing video games was a thing. Read. Play ball outside. Or they could cuddle with me and the cats. Help me clean the toilets and change the cat litter. Talk to me about their feelings. You know, kid stuff.

And so, my ex-husband and I have decided that while we can limit their amount of screentime, micromanaging what they watch—with the exception of the standards we agree on with them, such as no pornography, no watching videos of violent acts, etc— will only make them resent us and create an atmosphere of hostility surrounding their free time on their laptops. I don’t think these videos of video gaming is damaging in a specific sense; rather, I find it pointless. Naarishkeit, as my parents would say. Foolishness. A waste of time!

My parents probably thought many things I spent my time doing when I was my sons’ ages were silly. Talking to boys? What’s the point? I’m not of marrying age yet! Reading teen magazines when they just depressed me and made me feel more alone and less normal? Also silly. I guess I’m a product of that kind of thinking now that I’m a parent, but I’m also trying to be more understanding of the culture they are growing up in. My sons speak a different language. They like things I can’t even imagine liking.

But I also want them to feel autonomous as long as it’s not immoral, illegal or excessively unhealthy. I’m grateful I’m not such a nice mom that I try to get into these videos so they can bond with me about them. Heck, no. That’s what cleaning the toilets is for.

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