What Happened to Family Game Night?
In today’s digital age–families need to get creative for ‘family time’
According to PBS, bringing back Family Game Night has more benefits than family bonding time. It can help your children improve fine motor skills, teach problem-solving skills, and even help to improve their grades. All the more reason to develop a Family Game Night tradition for your family.
Board games used to be a common way for families to spend time together. I would include working on jigsaw puzzles in the same category as well as playing different types of card games. The experienced players would explain rules of the game and rules of play to the other players and each person would learn how to navigate the intricacies of the game while sharing laughter, a bit of competitive fun, and the highs and lows of luck that can be so entertaining.
When I was growing up, Family Game Night was a tradition within our family that led to wonderful memories, family bonding time, and a great competitive spirit that we all enjoyed together. I grew up in a large family, which meant that we had enough people to play the games that require 4 players and up. My father would put on a record. Yes, an actual record on a record player; oftentimes the Beatles or the Eagles. Mom would get out some snack chips or crackers. We would pick teams, a game to play, and have hours of friendly and competitive fun. Some of our favorite games to play were Parcheesi, Risk, Rummy, and Scrabble.
But these Family Game Nights have changed. There are dozens of nieces and nephews now and often they are not participating in these board game activities. To put it short, they simply don’t seem all that interested.
Is it possible that Family Game Night is a thing of the past? There don’t seem to be a lot of families participating in board games anymore and kids roll their eyes at such a dorky way to spend their time. So how can we relive the nostalgia of our own childhoods while sharing that beloved family bonding time with our children? In short, Family Game Night is evolving. And if we want to continue these traditions with our children, we have to meet them where they are. We have to take the parts of Family Game Night that we loved and adapt them in order to involve our own children and reap the benefits of this wonderful family bonding time.
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The nostalgia of board games is facing tough competition
While it used to be fun to roll the dice and hope for that elusive three we’ve been trying to get for several rounds, Kids are now bored. They are checking their phones or they want the television on or they are so distracted that they have trouble sitting still for a board game. It’s getting harder to keep their attention long enough to even explain the rules of a new game. While we are feeling the nostalgic pull of our past and the drive to create healthy and fun traditions with our children, they simply want to get away from such a nerdy way to spend their time and get back to their room and back to their phone. They want a game controller and fancy graphics.
Parents are left to scratch their heads and wonder if trying to revive the Family Game Night tradition is hopeless.
The solution, however, is not necessarily to give up on Family Game Night. But Family Game Night does need a bit of updating so that our children can get that tradition of bonding time within the family unit without feeling like they are stuck in an old-fashioned and boring event that they can’t escape. There are a few things you can do to try to bridge the conflicting gap between your needs and the needs of your children and adopt a Family Game Night strategy that will be a winner for all.
Set a specific time with some rules
The most important thing you need to do to establish a game night routine for your family is to make it that routine. It helps to set aside either a specific day of the week or even one day per month to dedicate that time to Family Game Night.
Start out with some ground rules. Ground rules help to establish the seriousness and commitment of devoting your time to building family experiences together.
This is a time you want your kids to shut out the outside world and focus just on spending time together. Each member of the family brings their own personality, needs, wants, and energy to Family Game Night. It’s important to address these conflicting interests and different personalities by planning your evening.
Here are a few ground rules to help you get started.
- Put away the cell phones. You can’t be truly focused on each other and spending time together if you are glued to the notifications pinging through your cell phone. This goes for the adults as well as the children. Put those cell phones away for the brief period of time that you are going to devote to spending time together. Let your kids know that this is family time.
- Prioritize the time that you have available for your family time. Let your kids see you explaining to your friend that no, you are not available on that particular day because that is family time and you’ll be happy to reschedule whatever event or activity with them for another time. Let them see that you prioritize family time and expect them to do the same.
- Depending on what activities you’ve selected for Family Game Night, you can decide whether or not there will be music or television involved.
Meet your kids where they are
What used to be family-inclusive rolls of the dice may now need to have an element of modernism to include today’s easily-distractible kids. Kids are used to more instant gratification than sitting and patiently waiting for their turn to roll the dice and move their game piece. You have to make a concerted effort to meet them where they are, which means making efforts to understand what is fun for them.
If they aren’t having fun–they aren’t going to be on board for family fun. Get them involved by meeting at their level of fun.
Try not to judge
I am embarrassed to say that I figured this one out by doing it the wrong way first. Let me explain.
When my daughter, now 15 years old, was about 13 we gave her her first cell phone and of course we were concerned about her behavior on her phone. My daughter’s ADHD and has issues with impulsivity, so we were very reluctant to open up the world of online activities to her without supervision. Within the first two weeks of having a cell phone, she downloaded an app called Musical-ly, which is now called Tik Tok, and uploaded 69 videos of herself gyrating to a whole lot of inappropriate music for her age.
I fully admit to having overreacted. First, there was the issue of her violating the rules that we had set regarding her cell phone, but there was also an element of her behavior that I failed to understand. All I saw was my daughter’s cussing. All I saw was my daughter moving her body in ways that I felt was certainly not becoming of her age. I feared for her safety and I feared that she was damaging her reputation by putting herself out there like that. But here’s what I missed. I missed out on the opportunity to talk to my child about what made this type of behavior so attractive to her.
Since then I have become more familiar with Tik Tok and I think it has evolved a bit since those early days. What I see now are entire families working together to create fun and entertaining videos. I see families dancing together. I see a bit of evolution in the appropriateness of the music and more dramatic flair to the videos rather than what I initially thought was attention-seeking and risky behavior. There’s more to this behavior–people are doing things together… and they are enjoying it!
Had I merely taken the time to talk to my daughter about what she was doing and get to the bottom of the emotions involved, I may have discovered that she was merely being creative and expressive and that with some guidance, this could have been a teaching moment. I may have discovered that dance makes her feel good. And I could have chosen to meet her where she was. Instead, I imparted an overly parental judgment and shut the whole thing down. Looking back I have a bit of regret. I think if I had just taken the time to get to know her a little better and maybe make it a fun thing that involved the whole family, I may have found a good bonding activity for us all.
I guess the point of all this is that if you reserve judgment for a moment you can often learn something really important about your children. Open up the conversation and give them a chance to explain themselves rather than shutting it down right away and making them feel judged and alienated.
It begins with observation and conversation.
When are your children at their “most happy”? This may be different for each of your children. In fact, these moments may be vastly different depending on the personality traits of each child. But you can observe similarities. Find the threads of commonality. Ask questions. Learn about what makes them really get excited and try to see things from their perspective. Just a bit of observation and some honest conversation can reveal things you never even knew about your children.
Here are some of the focus areas that you may want to observe:
- Are your children most happy when there is physical activity? What forms? Is this an athletic-style of activity or perhaps a more musical/dance form of physical activity?
- Are your children most happy when they are being creative or planning creative projects? Do they like designing or building or artistic activities?
- Are your children competitive?
- Are your children happiest when they are trying new things or visiting new places?
- Are your children more low-key, preferring a movie or reading a book?
- Are your children masters of food–ready to bake and whip up kitchen masterpieces?
- Are your children outdoorsy and nature-oriented?
- Are your children most happy when online or console gaming?
- Do they actually like board games and puzzles–perhaps they do!
When you get a good idea of the activities that your family enjoys you can compile a list of those activities and look for the ones that might appeal to the majority of your family members. Some of those might be indoor activities, gaming-oriented, or they may be outdoor activities. Once you have your list of activities ready you’re ready to approach the family with your idea.
First of all, you can call it Family Fun Night or Family Game Night or Family Activities Time or whatever you choose to call it, but let your family know that you intend to begin this tradition. It’s probably a good idea to start with once a month and take it from there.
Secondly, you want to get a bit of input from the family members. Show them your list of activities and ask them for feedback. Perhaps they have some great suggestions of things that they’ve always wanted to do that they could do with the family.
Thirdly, you’ll want to set a budget and be very clear about this with the other family members. Decide which activities can and cannot be done with the budget that you have set.
Next, you will want to decide what day of the month or week you will have your Family Game Night and what the rules are that you can all agree to. Decide this ahead of time, put your first date on the calendar, and be ready to tackle that first Family Game Night.
Here are a few planning suggestions to make your Family Game Night a roaring success.
- Keep it lighthearted and fun
- Plan ahead for any snacks and drinks that you may want to have on hand
- Arrange for any supplies, games, or materials that you’ll need to have on hand
- If you plan to have outdoor activities such as riding bicycles, you may want to check the bikes ahead of time to make sure they’re all in good working condition
- If you plan to have your Family Game Night away from the house, make sure to make the arrangements for those activities and check for scheduling or hours of operation for the places you intend to go
- Try not to pressure your family members and just let them know it’s just for a little bit of fun. Let that bonding develop on its own without pressuring your family to feel like they have to hold up to some kind of standard.
Family Game Night does not have to be a thing of the past it just needs to be a thing that is different.
If you have the image in your head of a family in the 50s with the old television and the family is sitting around the kitchen table drinking a glass of tea and playing cards, you may have to put that image to rest. Family bonding time is different now. There are too many distractions, too many things that compete for the time of our children that weren’t such an issue back then. Whatever you choose to do with your family time and however you define your Family Game Night, it is okay. Just have a good time and get to know your kids a little bit better. It can all be fun and games if you just give it the time and space.
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Christina M Ward is a mom, grandmother, and writer of lots and lots of words. When she’s not busy obsessing over writing poetry and well-living articles, she is out in nature exploring or doing needlepoint crafts in front of Netflix. She loves books and reading, learning geeky things about nature, and helping other people live their best life.
What Happened to Family Game Night? discusses how to get a Family Game Night going to promote family bonding time for parents and their kids.