CNN Parenting

The argument for playing video games with our kids

"Minecraft" is a sandbox game, in which a player is free to roam a virtual world instead progressing from level to level.

(CNN)There is, inevitably, a gap between the parents we are and the parents we think we are. Not unlike algorithms, we rely on the past to inform our parenting decisions in the present. But this world keeps on turning, and the parenting present is never quite like the past.

In his new book, "The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World," Jordan Shapiro considers how this gap is playing out in our children's screen time. Many parents see themselves as dutiful, and at least occasionally wise, guides for their children. We help them make good decisions at school, with friends and on the sports field. But when it comes to digital lives, many kids tend to be steering the ship on their own.
I am, without question, guilty. I'm an involved and considerate parent ... except when my 6-year-old son plays video games. As long as the games seem to be age-appropriate, I let him play whatever he pleases while I happily do something else for a couple of hours every weekend. Quality time, and its attendant bonding and life lessons, happen later.
    But after speaking with Shapiro and reading his book, I saw how this is a mistake. The more everyone's lives takes place on digital commons, he explains, the more we need to spend quality time with our kids online, showing them around the place and how things work.
    "We know abstinence sex education doesn't work and creates unhealthy sexual relationships. So why are we taking a similar approach with screen time?" Shapiro said. Instead of shying away from the digital bogeyman, he wants parents to embrace it.
    "Why don't we build rituals with new technologies that teach [our children] moral and ethical lessons?"

    Screen time can be quality time

    I went all-in. Every night for a week, during our quality time slot, we played "Minecraft" together -- his preferred digital entertainment. I entered this arrangement wholly, and willfully, ignorant about this immensely popular game.
    My first discovery was that my son, despite having already played for a couple of months, knew little more than I did. "What have you been doing when you played?" I asked as gently as possible after he was unable to answer a series of basic questions about the game. "Just moving around and killing creepers," he answered.
    "Minecraft" is a sandbox game, the type in which a player is free to roam a virtual world instead progressing from level to level. Sure, there is a lot of moving around and killing bad guys, but that's far from the whole point. The bigger goal is survival, and creation and destruction are both key to that survival.
    On our first night,