In our wired world, you'd be hard pressed to find a kid without an online presence. We live in a computer age—your child will grow up exposed to smartphones, computers and video games, probably learning how to use them faster than you did. Though playing violent games can lead to antisocial behavior patterns, online gaming for kids isn't all bad. In fact, pro-social and learning-directed video games have been found to have a positive effect on children.
According to a 2007 study published in the "Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine," kids between the ages of 10 and 19 spend an average of one hour per weekday and 1.5 hours per weekend day playing video games. If you want to engage with your kids and have some common ground, why not join them?
Be a Role Model
Instead of banning your little gamer from the 'Net, navigate the murky waters of the gaming world together to instill values that'll help keep him safe on the world wide web. Walk through the process of choosing friends online, which sites to avoid, and encourage him to ask lots of questions. By talking about how Internet games should be played, you'll encourage pro-social behaviors such as sharing, helping others and using teamwork to accomplish a goal.
Games that promote positive social behaviors, such as Zoo Vet, Farmville and Super Mario Sunshine, can actually be beneficial for development. A 2009 study featured in the "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin" found that kids, adolescents and young adults who played these pro-social games demonstrated positive social behaviors. Compared to participants that played neutral games, such as Tetris, those who played pro-social games were more likely to help someone out who was harassed or bullied.
All games are rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, ESRB, who assigns them based on game content. Here is a breakdown of the ESRB's system:
- EC. The Early Childhood rating is assigned to games for kids 3 and older, and doesn't contain any violence or strong language.
- E. You're probably familiar with the E for Everyone rating. These games involve content suitable for kids ages 6 and up. You can find cartoon animation, but these games have minimal violence, language and suggestive themes.
- E 10+. This category is for everyone 10 years and older. It can contain more violence, language or suggestive themes than E rated games.
- T. T-rated games are for teenage audiences, typically between the ages of 13 and 17. You may find violence, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling as well as some stronger language.
- M. When you see an M rating, this game is for players aged 17 years and older. You will often find violence, gore, blood, strong language or sexual content.
- AO. The strongest rating by the ESRB, Adults Only games should only be played by people who are at least 18 years old. Prolonged violence, sexual content, nudity or strong language are part of these games.
If you encourage the right kinds of games, play with your kid to monitor use and set ground rules for playing, his online gaming experience can result in better adult behavior.
Here are some tips for choosing games and getting your kids to play with you:
- Recognize the Rating. Games are rated mature for a reason—there's typically violence involved. Look for the age-range on the package, and stick what's right for your kids.
- Set Parental Controls. Many game consoles allow you to set passwords and controls to prevent your kids from accessing certain games. Tell your kids about the rules, and consequences, enforcing them consistently.
- Friendly Competition. Computers and gaming consoles are designed for multi-player use, so get the whole family involved! Make it a friendly competition with fun prizes. If you team the kids up against the adults, try sweetening the deal with allowing kids to have dessert for dinner or stay up an extra hour if they win.
- Show Support. If you aren't playing along with him, check in daily on his scores or progress. Ask him about characters, how many points he won or lost or what's tricky about a particular level. You can glean crucial information about the game and how it's affecting your child by asking questions. Plus, it lets him know you're supporting him, which boosts his confidence and makes him feel safe.
- Never Stop Teaching. Take the opportunity to teach some morals while you play, especially if it's a team-oriented or role-playing game. If he's trying hard but not doing well, you can choose to give him points for effort, or give him an extra turn. Showing compassion and demonstrating that winning isn't everything encourages that same behavior in your kids.
- Set Screen Time Limits. Too much time spent gaming has its downsides. When your child neglects friends, family, schoolwork or activities he used to love, he may have an unhealthy gaming habit. Try limiting his game time, depending on his age. For kids ages 3 and up, cap it at 30 minutes per session a few days during the week, and only an hour per day on the weekends. For older kids with homework and other commitments, computers may be part of the assignment. Try to limit gaming time to one hour per weekday, and no more than two hours on weekend days. Additionally, there are support groups and therapy options for more serious addictions.
Playing games with your child allows you to more effectively watch his use and activity, curbing it if he starts to disappear too often into the gaming world. With your guidance and help, online gaming for kids can be a skill-building experience.