Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Boy Scouts as video gamers

The Boy Scouts of America has announced it will offer two awards -- a belt loop and a pin -- for video gaming. While at first blush, this sounds a little sad. When we hear Scouts, we imagine tents and nature and slip knots, not Diddy Kong. The CNN tech blog where I read this announcement was skeptical:
". . . you still have to wonder if this isn’t a misguided attempt by the Cub Scouts to stay relevant by pandering to boys’ interests. Seems to me the Scouts should be getting kids outside and teaching them practical skills beyond the bubble of their everyday lives instead of how to read the back of a video game box."

But what should the Scouts do? Ignore video gaming entirely?

The Kaiser Family Foundation's recent study on media and children says 8- to 18-year-olds spend an average of 7 hours, 38 minutes using entertainment media in a typical day. That's like having a full-time job! And as for gender, the study comes as no surprise: Boys spend more time than girls playing console video games (56 minutes per day for boys, 14 minutes for girls).

It's the Scouts vs. Mario and Luigi!

I applaud the Scouts' effort to try to harness all this frenzied energy for video gaming and contain it. This generation of kids has been called "digital natives," and as parents, we often don't come anywhere close to speaking their language. So if an organization like the Scouts steps in and tries to help translate, I'm all for it.

What do you have to do to earn the Scouts' belt loop? Kids have to explain why a rating system is important for video games. That can prompt some good discussions. What else must they do? Create a daily schedule to see where gaming fits in after chores and homework. What's not to love about teaching kids time management? And when there is a daily planner hanging on the fridge, it makes parenting that much easier. "I'd love to let you play longer, but the chart shows it's time for homework. . ."

And to earn a pin? Among the nine requirements are two that I think every parent should be doing when the Wii or other game system enters the house: Have Junior sit down and teach us how to play a game. The other requirement I wholeheartedly back is having him choose a game that helps with math, spelling, or another skill related to schoolwork. "Can't talk now, Mom. I'm practicing fractions!"

It's all about having the vegetables along with dessert. Kids, especially boys, want to game. There is a place for it, and they should play within reason. There are ways to teach them to use gaming intelligently. And if a venerable organization like the Scouts tries to teach them the healthy ways to incorporate gaming into their lives, all the better.

Take that, Mario!

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