Gaming Without Fear

Video games are everywhere. You'd think with all of this distraction and hype that parents would want to learn more about what was going on in these virtual worlds consuming their kids, but alas, it seems to have the opposite effect. Increasingly parents trust their kids to make appropriate gaming choices and find a comfort in the moments of silence these video games afford them. I, however, refuse to be left in the cyberdust of my tech-savvy kids. Through my work in the toy industry and research on the topic of gaming, I've learned that some video games can actually help kids learn important skills and, when balanced with other types of play, gaming can provide great family time. Here are my tips for breaking into the gaming space without turning your kids off entirely.

  • Passwords are public domain. Especially when it comes to online gaming, make sure you have access to all of the gaming sites your kids frequent. Don't abuse the access and cramp your kid's online style, but familiarize yourself with their virtual gaming world so that fear of the unknown doesn't breed gaming anxiety.

  • Get playing. No game, no matter how silly or complex, is beyond your grasp. Your kid's semi-explanation about their game play is no substitute for powering up or logging on yourself to experience it first-hand. For younger kids this can be a great "teaching" moment wherein they teach you all the cool stuff they know - and a great many things you don't. For older kids it may require a more covert approach - perhaps best executed when they're out of the house.

  • Keep on top of trends.  The Internet is your friend. Go online. Find game and game system reviews, and then have a conversation about gaming with your kids that won't send eyes fluttering into the back of their heads. Check out this site for gaming reviews (TTP link to gaming page) and visit www.commonsensemedia.org to learn what all of those labels really mean.

  • Games they love about stuff they can use.  Believe it or not, many video games have potential to boost kids' brain power. Parents can get more bang for their buck by investing in games that combine the action-packed play kids love with educational content you want. Success = picking games that feature characters they know with age-appropriate content that challenges and entertains them for more than thirty seconds.
  • Game time as a sugar-free bribe. Video game time can be a powerful motivator in trying to enforce homework or household chore rules. It works, with fewer cavities.

  • Get Brave with a Family Game Night.  Not for the faint of heart, try designating one night a week as "game night" to give those multiplayer games a run for the their money. It's also a good idea to "power off" at a set time every day - parents and kids.  

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