Video games are predicted to be US $90 billion market by 2020 with over 2.5 billion people in the world already playing them. Gaming is a giant in the entertainment industry, allowing many of us to while away hours playing them as a distraction, as a challenge or as a way to enjoy time with others. Some of those people are your kids, and while you may allow and even encourage your kids to play them, there are ways you can help them do it so that it continues to be a safe, enjoyable way for them to spend their time:
Make sure the game is ok for your child.
Use settings or restrictions in your gaming consoles or mobile devices to manage the games that your kids are allowed to download or play on their devices. Video games played on consoles like Xbox or Playstation have an age-rating set by a standards organization in each country (such as the ESRB (North America), PEGI (Europe) or GRAC (South Korea)). Gaming apps downloaded for Android and Windows devices have age ratings set by an international coalition called the IARC. Apps played on Apple devices have age ratings set by the app developer and reviewed by Apple.
Create a safe space for them to play.
Use privacy settings so they are not connected to the internet or playing with or against people on the internet that they do not know.
Consider if you want them to use the headset and whether or not you want to be able to hear who they are playing with online. Allowing a headset will keep your house more quiet, but foregoing it allows you to hear who they are playing with and what they are talking about.
Keep screen-time healthy.
Let your kids know ahead of time how much time they will be permitted to play. If another healthy choice such as playing outside or being with family and friends in person are options, make sure they are doing these things as much if not more than just sitting on screens. Be sure you are close enough to see or hear them, and check-in on them while they play.
Set the rules.
Set clear expectations with your kids regarding how long they are permitted to play and stick to that. Explain to them that they should not agree to requests from the game for more personal information or to download anything extra without coming to you first. Encourage them to tell you if something happens on the game that worries them. Remind them to be kind towards others who may not be as successful at the game as they are. If they become frustrated because of their own performance at the game, have them take a break from the game or stop it altogether for the day. Encourage them to redirect their energy to a healthy alternative such as playing outside, playing a board game, reading or spending time with family or friends offline.
Talk to other parents
Discussing your approach and rules for games with other parents is important. This will help with managing those moments when your child goes to someone else’s home or you are hosting another child, and help avoid misunderstandings between families. If you are hosting another child, ask the other parent if the game they might play is ok for them. It will likely result in them asking you when your child visit their home, and set up a norm among families to reduce issues of misunderstandings or conflict.
Join in the fun.
While you may not know how or want to play the games they are enjoying, the bonding you will have with your child is strengthened when you do things together. Kids love to teach you and have you interested in what they are interested in. Ask them to teach you, which not only shows you care but also helps them develop skills like effective communication – the clearer they are explaining the purpose of the game or how to use the controller, the better they will be with their communication skills. No need to be on it a long time, but watch how your child responds to the interest that you show – most of the time they become enthusiastic teachers.
Lynette Owens is the Founder and Global Director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 20+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support online safety, digital and media literacy and digital citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, an advisory committee member of the Digital Wellness Lab, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day.
Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens