An organization in Canada called Autism Nova Scotia has developed a program for teens with autism that uses Dungeons & Dragons to help those with autism spectrum disorder develop social and cooperation skills. The program is seeing positive results, and participants are reporting having positive social interactions, often difficult for those with autism. Additionally, they are forming fast friendships that are spilling over from the game into the real world.
Of course, the benefits of role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons are not limited to teens with autism. In a world where much of children’s entertainment does too much of the work for them, roleplaying offers an oft-overlooked outlet for growth. What about you? Does your child play Dungeons and Dragons? Do you worry that your child is spending too much time with roleplaying and living in a fantasy world? Or, are you fine with all of the time it requires because you see it as relatively harmless? Have you ever really considered the benefits of encouraging your child to roleplay with games like Dungeons and Dragons?
At first blush, if parents are only glancing and not truly observing, it is understandable why they might question how their kids are using their time with roleplaying. A group of friends arrives, chips and pop in hand, papers and books are spread on a table, oddly-shaped dice are scattered everywhere, there’s some laughter, some shouting, and some conversation that might be allowing kids to indulge too much in “nonsense” fantasy. There’s certainly very little physical exercise involved. And, this can go on for hours – sometimes until the sun comes up. It’s fair for parents to question, “Is this healthy or beneficial for my child?”
Like the teens in Nova Scotia, any teen learns social interaction and group problem-solving skills while roleplaying. When employers have been surveyed regarding the attributes of ideal job candidates, they often cite the need for people who have the ability to work on a team. The work world has little need for the lone wolf who has no ability to work with others. The very nature of roleplaying requires your child to function in a team environment, which perhaps grooms your child for the work world. Additionally, kids have to use math skills on the spot as well as reading fairly complex texts, especially if one is the Dungeon Master (no worries, not as kinky as it sounds). Simply reading and understanding the rules of Dungeons & Dragons engages higher order thinking skills. Often kids who are reluctant to read overcome that reluctance when it comes to reading the texts associated with roleplaying games.
In my opinion, what’s most beneficial about roleplaying is that it engages a person’s imagination and creativity, which is pretty hard to find in our spoon-fed world of passive entertainment. Technology has come so far in its ability to create engaging worlds on screen and in video games, which is wonderful, but which also means that your child might be getting entertained very passively, without engaging his/her own imagination. Speaking both metaphorically and literally, your child has to bring something to the table when playing Dungeons & Dragons. It’s what they bring to the game through the engagement of their imaginations that makes it possible for them to have fun. And, if you eavesdrop on your children and their group of friends, you are going to hear a lot of fun going on, even if you hear odd references to orcs, kobolds, and swamp dragons.
In fact, as a parent, if you eavesdrop or even sit in and listen to a group of teens roleplaying, you might very likely be tempted to join in. I would highly recommend that. If you consider it, where in your own life are you encouraged to truly use your imagination? Roleplaying with your child could end up being a very beneficial activity for you, too. What better way to bond with your child than to use your imaginations to stand back to back and stare down an approaching hill troll. Everything that’s good about roleplaying for teens is good for adults. In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine links a decrease in Alzheimer’s and dementia to the playing of board games which, by proxy, likely extends to roleplaying games.
The long and the short of it? If you’re worried about your child engaging in roleplaying games because it could be a waste of time… well, don’t. They are likely benefiting much more than from the other ways they could choose to spend their leisure time. Of course, if you want to watch out for them, you could cut up some carrots and celery to complement their chips and pizza. Or, at the very least, when they order that pizza, make them walk to get it. Roleplaying might come with many unexpected benefits, but calorie burning isn’t one of them. - Jeff Van Zande
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