“Mega Rayquayza is so powerful! Right?”
“I’m going to need more obsidian if I’m going to make a nether portal.”
If you’ve ever heard phrases like this in your household, you probably have a kid who’s in to Pokemon or Minecraft. They each come with their own set of terms and characters. Pokemon alone has more than 800 fictional characters. Minecraft has dozens of characters and dozens of recipes that assist the player with building their infinite world.
Regardless of if it’s Pokemon, Minecraft, Doc McStuffins or American Girl, it’s a challenging task to fully wrap your head around the characters, their backstory, abilities and importance. It’s all unfamiliar territory to somebody that didn’t grow up with these shows, games or toys. I look like a pro when my boys play with Ninja Turtles, Mario Brothers or Star Wars, but I look like a hapless amateur when it comes to most modern interests.
I felt like a fraud having to answer every one of my son’s statements about Pokemon with “that’s cool.” That got old quickly, and I felt like I was phoning in my interactions with my son. I’m interested in everything about him, but I was so out of my league that it was watering down my conversations with my son. I realized then, that I would have to employ the honorable tradition of “fake it til you make it.”
There’s a difference between this strategy and the mindless, “oh yeah?” responses that I had been regurgitating daily. It was going to require some learning on my part, but I was going to be able to learn the lexicon. It wasn’t going to happen overnight, but I wanted to be able to engage with my son again.
Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks
The Student Becomes the Teacher
Your quickest source of learning is standing right in front of you – your child. Engage in conversation, show genuine interest, and listen. “Who’s that? What do they do? Can you tell me about them?” It turns out it’s really exciting for your child to see you take an interest in something they’re enamored with, and they’ll gladly fill you in. Now, I’ll warn you right now, it’s all still going to mostly be gibberish at first. It reminded me of trying to learn Spanish – it was mostly foreign to me (go figure) at first, but the more I was exposed to it, the more I actively listened, and the more I tried to learn, the easier it came. Before I knew it, I could haggle with a street merchant in Ensenada. So, don’t give up if you can’t remember it all – you’ll get small wins here and there. “Is that Charizard? And he can evolve to Charmander, right?” You won’t be an immediate expert, but you’ll get enough to be able to recognize things and engage with your child.
Don’t go to the psychiatrist right away. There are other parents like you. I’ve found that one of the quickest ways to get an understanding of my child’s new interest was to seek out a cheat sheet or a parents guide. You’d be surprised how many resources for quick learning there are available at the end of a quick Google search. For example, the Parents Guide to Minecraft or Parents Guide to Pokemon. These are kind of like a better version of Cliff’s Notes.
Focus Your Effort
Again, with so many complexities, and a child’s tendency to move on to the next passion in a few months, it may be futile to try to become an expert yourself. So, I recommend choosing a few elements that you really focus on. Pick a few characters and really dive in to understanding them. If your kid is into space, pick a few planets and really focus on learning about them. When you can engage with your child’s play, passion and interests, it will mean a lot to them, but it also further creates a meaningful bond between the two of you (as opposed to letting them stare at a screen or play alone because you’re too intimidated by the complexity of game or characters).
The bottom line: Take interest in your child’s interests. Learn what you can, ask questions, and find out what your child loves so much about their latest fascination. You may even find why Steve is looking for redstone.