While some parents shy away from letting their kids play games or learn about tough social issues, such as injustices against women, there’s a new breed of mothers using social games to teach their children about the world and the real issues people face in it — specifically the issues that women face worldwide.
It’s a natural progression that mothers would be the ones to introduce their children to social games, such as those on social networking site Facebook. After all, mothers make up a huge group of social gamers, with 54% of social gamers being female and 64% having children.
It turns out that social games can be a learning tool for children of all ages. We spoke with three mothers about how they’re using social games to teach their children — toddlers to teens, boys and girls — about women’s rights issues. Their stories were both heart-warming and inspiring. Here’s what they had to say.
The Basics and Learning about World Cultures
Above: Alexandra Chauran and daughter, Eris, play Half the Sky Movement: The Game together.
Alexandra Chauran — a married mother of two in Issaquah, Washington — believes it’s never too early to open the dialogue about how others lives and what other cultures are like. Alexandra, a casual social gamer, says her two-year-old daughter, Eris, sits on her lap no matter where she is, even when she’s at the computer playing a game.
These days, Alexandra and Eris are bonding over Half the Sky Movement: The Game, a Facebook adventure game that raises awareness and funds to empower women and girls across the globe.
While playing along, Eris asks her mother about what’s going on in the game — whether she’s curious about what animals are on screen or what the women are wearing. Alexandra says the game gives her the chance to teach her daughter basic reading skills in a new way, but also gives her the chance to introduce Eris to other cultures and international travel, as the game’s main character, Radhika, is from India and travels around the world, solving various women’s issues in many countries.
The game, especially its main character, also helps Eris understand her own environment better, says Alexandra, as there is a strong Indian culture in the family’s neighborhood. Alexandra even takes Indian dance classes and the family lives next door to a Hindu temple.
Alexandra says that the Half the Sky game is a positive experience for Eris, both an opportunity for her to learn reading in a fun and interactive way and a segue into deeper conversations around women’s issues when Eris gets older.
Mother of three Kelly Arthur, says her tweens — at 10, 14, and 15 years of age — are also fans of the Half the Sky game, but have also started learning about other cultures through a game called Free Rice, which donates 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme each time a user gets a quiz question right. Subjects tested include math, science, geography, and even SAT prep. Kelly has been most impressed with the foreign language questions, though — her kids are picking up other languages while helping end hunger. Social gaming, she says, has had a significant impact on her family.
Bringing Boys Into the Conversation
Henry Alcock, above, and his mother are avid Half the Sky game players and have turned their passion for helping into real-world change.
Lisa Alcock, a single mother from Valparaiso, Indiana, says that teaching her son how to be a good person and how to treat other people, including women, are her responsibilities as a parent. She also believes it’s important for him to know that there is a whole, big world outside of Indiana and that a lot of people in the world live under much different conditions than him and others in his community.
Alcock first learned about the Half the Sky game through a Facebook post by Nicholas Kristof, award-winning journalist and co-author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the book that inspired both the Facebook game and a PBS television series.
Her son, Henry, saw her playing one of the mini-games and was instantly draw to ask about what she was doing. She explained the game and saw he was interested, so she let him sign up to play alongside her.
The impact the game has had on Henry is absolutely inspiring. He used to pour out his bottled water or splash it around, as young boys do, for example, but after learning that people elsewhere have to walk miles for water, he told his mother, “Some people don’t have water, so it’s mean for me to waste it.” And he hasn’t dumped his water out since.
The game brings up a lot of questions for Henry about women’s rights, his mother says, like why women aren’t allowed to drive in some countries. “How does a mom take her daughter to the park?” Henry asked one day. When his mother told him that they just don’t as a result, he responded, “That just doesn’t make any sense!”
Lisa says she hopes to raise a child who is sweet and nice, who doesn’t feel obliged to live up to societal stereotypes of what it means to be a man: Strong, fierce, powerful.
"I have a responsibility to not put this egotistical, self-centered, sexist man into the world, because ultimately I’m shaping him, my parents are shaping him, his friends at school are shaping him," Lisa says. "It’s my responsibility to put a nice, caring man into the world."
Above: Braeden Arthur of Saratoga Springs, New York, plays Half the Sky Movement: The Game after school.
Kelly Arthur says that her 10-year-old son, Braeden, is also learning about women’s issues through playing Half the Sky Movement: The Game.
Braeden first got involved with the game through his mother’s and sisters’ interest in women’s issues. His mother is the co-founder of thinkpeace, which offers day and weekend workshops, summer camps and outreach programs for girls who want to be part of the global girl community. His sisters, Reese and Rimi, are both highly involved with the camps, and Braeden has really been raised with gender equality and women’s rights as topics of discussion, whether in the car, at the dinner table, or at a camp session.
Braeden’s first big introduction to women’s issues, though, was through the Half the Sky film, which Kelly sat down and watched with her son after a separate thinkpeace screening where he had expressed interest in watching it. Kelly wondered if he was ready for difficult social topics, such as child marriage and rape, but decided that she should go ahead and let him get involved.
After all, Braeden, she says, had been hounding her for a while to open up a thinkpeace camp for boys, telling her, “Boys are a part of the solution. You can’t do it without us! We’re in there, too!” And he certainly had a point.
Since watching the film and playing the Facebook game once it came out, Braeden has been on a passionate mission, alongside his sisters, to make a difference.
Braeden and his sister, Reese, 14, compete against each other to get further and further along in the game. As they move through the game, they unlock real donations, such as books, made to real people in need. The two also relay ideas for thinkpeace lessons to their sister, Remi, 15, who is a teen adviser at the camp and spends her time organizing fundraisers and awareness workshops for good causes. Braeden is also currently on a real-life mission to clear his book shelves and send more real books to people in need, a direct result of the game.
Getting Active for Real-world Change
Above: Braeden’s 10th birthday is filled with socially-minded activities, like carrying water jugs and food baskets.
All of the mothers I spoke with regarding social games and women’s issues pointed out the same underlying change in their children: They are now more aware of and interested in helping out in their own communities and those across the world, since getting involved with social games that help good causes.
For his 10th birthday, Braeden, fore example, asked the thinkpeace club girls to help him throw a fundraiser party to benefit various GirlUp programs in Malawi, Ethiopia, Liberia and Guatemala. “He had 35 kids, boys and girls, all doing activities that kids have to do there, like carrying heavy amounts of food and jerrycans filled with water for long distances,” says Kelly. “It was very eye opening for his friends, for sure.” It should be noted that Braeden is the biggest kid in his class and plays on the football team — not your typical gender-issues-interested 10-year-old.
Henry, the seven-year-old sweetheart in Indiana, is helping his mother celebrate her 36th birthday this week by doing 36 random acts of kindness, such as handing out bottled water at the running track, taking old blankets to the animal shelter, and leaving painted rocks in random places to cheer people up.
Even Eris, the two-year-old reading machine in Washington, is making real-world change. For her third birthday, her mother plans to get invitees, both kids and adults, together for a shoe-cutting party, in which they will cut fabric to send to those in need of shoes in Uganda, all possible through an organization called SoleHope.
A Call for Accessible Teaching Materials
Alexandra says she has always been interested in international and philanthropic topics, but she hadn’t really considered how to get her daughter involved until they began playing the Half the Sky game together. Since it is a colorful cartoon and presents the material in a safe way, though, it’s more accessible for a young child, she says.
Henry’s mother, Lisa, agrees that Half the Sky is a game that continues to spark new conversations of international interest with her son. In the past, Henry has occasionally chimed in when Lisa was listening to NPR, which features much international programming, but the medium isn’t exactly kid-friendly. She says she wishes there were more programs for kids to learn about world topics. In schools, there’s Channel One, she says, and when she was a kid, there was Nick News with Linda Ellerbee. But there’s nothing like that now, she says.
Kelly says that issues such as female genital mutilation can be tough to tackle, as parents are often uncomfortable with the topics at hand. It’s all about dealing with the issue in the right way, though, she says, and right now, the world lacks age-appropriate materials to do that. There are some games for very young children, and a lot of scary material out there, geared towards adults. But the in-between for tweens and teens is lacking.
"These are real-world problems," Kelly says. "These things happen to girls their age and younger, so they need to know about it. How can they be empathetic if they don’t know what’s going on?"
Happy Mother’s Day!
This Mother’s Day, we say thank you to all of the mothers out there who are brave enough to tackle these tough conversations with their children. It all starts with awareness. Our children are the future. Let’s help them be a part of the solution.