7 steps to make video games good for your kids

September 16, 2007

Here’s something to try if you’re a parent. Next time you’re at a social gathering, try mentioning that you just bought your son or daughter a video game system. Any takers? For many, admitting to other parents that you let your child play video games is akin to confessing a petty crime; it certainly isn’t up there with dropping your son off at the baseball field for ball practice. Especially when popular media is your primary source of information about video games, it’s easy to think that they’re really something to be avoided.

***************Why let kids play?
Well, for starters, they’re probably going to want to anyway. Games are mainstream now. Is it surprising that most kids would rather play video games than watch TV? And why stand in their way? Surveys taken by the Entertainment Software Association, which studies the industry, indicate that games are a social activity, much like joining a sports team. People tend to play with friends and family more often than they play by themselves, contrary to the stereotype of the anti-social gamer that stays in their room all day. There are real benefits to playing games, including being a tool for you and your child to grow closer; you’re missing the boat if you and your kid haven’t sat down together for a good game session or two.
**********Don’t buy a game system without buying extra controllers:
When we say that games are a social event, we mean it. Having extra controllers allows your child to invite friends over to play at the end of the day, and also let’s you share the experience with your child the next time the two of you sit down to play together. Most of the game systems in the current generation of consoles have the ability to plug in at least four controllers at once (with the exception of the PS2). Having extra controllers is a prerequisite for social gaming.
**************Keep the system in the open:
If you don’t want your child disappearing into their room after supper every night, put the game system in a social location, like the family living room. Not only will that let your child play without being sequestered in their room, it makes it easier for either you, or any other siblings that might be around, to join in on the game. Besides, it’s a good feeling to know your son or daughter is in the other room having fun with their friends. It helps you to know what’s going on.
***************Find the good games:
After getting extra controllers, make sure you have a few games that let people play together. There are all sorts of games that let the players work together as a team, compete in friendly matches, and challenge each other in races. Roughly 85% of games on the market are rated as appropriate for teens and under, with the majority of those being sports and action titles, so feel free to explore what your game system has to offer. Pay enough attention to games to find the ones that are fun and encourage your child to be social.
*******************And avoid the bad:
Even as a strong supporter of considering games to be free speech, there are certainly games that I don’t think children should play. Games like Manhunt, one of the most violent and disturbing games ever made, have no place in your son or daughter’s collection of titles.
At least that’s my opinion. You as a parent have to decide what your child does or does not play, and to do that you have to know what is in the games you're buying. The ESRB ratings on every game help with that, but it never hurts to do research on your own.
********************Get “Active” titles:
If you’re worried about the health consequences of sitting in front of the TV, purchase a game like Dance Dance Revolution and a dance pad for extra exercise. These sorts of games are fun, active, and will work up a sweat and burn calories without anyone even realizing it. Not only that, but you don’t have to be any good to have fun while playing, and it lends itself to anyone that wants to jump in for a second and give it a go. It’s great for parties, and great for the parent that’s passing through the living room, wants to hang out for a bit, and doesn’t have time to learn the full depth of each title on the shelf. If you’re looking for additional solutions and have a bit more money to spend, try turning your system into a workout station; playing games can be good for you as well as fun.
***************Stay involved:
Take the time to learn how to play the games. Your child enjoys them, so play enough on your own to see why, and then you won’t be so obviously inept the next time the two of you sit down to play together. Games aren’t just for kids, you know; the average gamer is 29 years old. You might find yourself hooked.
******************Don’t be afraid:
Don’t believe all the popular media about violence in video games. While there have been a great deal of sensationalist news claims over the years, little legitimate supporting research has been presented that makes a strong link between games and violence. In 2001, the Surgeon General of the United States released a report that concluded, “
[t]aken together, findings suggest that media violence has a relatively small impact on violence."" Besides, the debate becomes mute if you pay attention to the content of the games your child is playing.
It’s easy to want to say no when your kid asks for a video game system for Christmas or for a birthday; after all, we’ve all seen various news reports about the dangers of video games. But next time your child makes such a request, don’t be so quick with that knee-jerk reaction. Two thirds of parents with children under the age of 18 say that they feel video games are a positive element of their child’s life. You don’t have to feel guilty next time someone asks you, “You let your kids play video games?” Just look surprised and say, “We play video games together. Why? Don’t you?”
You might be surprised at how nice a ring that line has.
(Source: Your Guide to Nintendo Games