When my seven year old son emerged from the school gates pleading to play the latest video game on his tablet, I recoiled in horror. The entire journey home was full of chatter about which of his friends were online, what he could build and whether he could have some kind of ‘bucks’ to afford a magic carpet. I felt like I had lost my little boy. I conjured up visions of a dark room, the sound of gunshots from a screen and my child only communicating in grunts. Not yet, was my response, and I encouraged him to continue with the lovely educational games I had spent hours sourcing online.
However, anyone who has a seven year old boy knows that it does not simply stop there. He then began to feel left out and as we entered our third national lockdown I could see he needed to communicate with his friends. Awkward, forced exchanges on Facetime were just not cutting it. So, I did a little research and felt that, with some control, we would let him. I looked at the games he had asked to play and, concluded they were not like sending my child into a virtual war.
Allowing your child to play video games is a very personal choice but if it is something you are considering it is best to go into it with some knowledge.
What is the right age to play?
A recent study showed that as many as 93% of children do play video games. Technology has evolved at a rapid speed. Tablets have become affordable and robust enough to hand to a toddler and buy parents some quiet time. Once a novelty for older children gaming apps have, in recent years, become available for children as young as 12 months old. They can have excellent benefits and encourage young pre-schoolers to learn phonics and help them to become school ready. If you ensure that your child is playing age-appropriate games and you can limit screen time, it can be a positive experience.
The leap to ‘gaming’
As your child grows you may find the jump in gaming a bit of a minefield. Gone are the days of inserting a little square cartridge into your Gameboy and entering a nail-biting tournament of Tetris. Games are now commonly played online. As I looked at the games my son’s friends were playing, I was catapulted into the world of avatars, V-bucks and crafting. My child could design a version of himself, meet his friends virtually and play hide and seek! It was mind boggling! My current experience with gaming was, and still is, Pacman and the odd game of Solitaire.
I was reassured that games do not need to be played online but found that the advertising campaign is often slanted towards encouraging a child to play with their friends. You can begin by understanding the game that your child is interested in playing. A great one to start with is Minecraft. In creative mode a child can design a whole world using their imagination and, crafting materials from the land. It is great for problem solving, design and creativity. Schools in Sweden and America have even used it in their teaching. However, do limit screen time and keep your child near to oversee their playing.
This can be a really tricky decision for a parent but once your child discovers that they can play online with their friends it will be something they may well ask to do. If you are not comfortable, then there is absolutely no pressure for you to do it. If you allow your child to play online with their friends then look into internet safety. Online gaming can be an excellent way of keeping in touch with friends and building friendships, whilst teaching them collaborative skills. It can also open them to a world of the unknown and make them more vulnerable.
How can you make video games safe for your child?
- Establish a set screen time each day
- Take an interest in the games that they play so that it can be a shared experience
- Adjust parental controls on gaming devices
- Discuss internet safety and make your child aware of the dangers of strangers online
- Make sure that the game is age appropriate
- Discuss spending money within games and agree limits
Pros and cons
There are games out there that can help a child’s mind relax and switch off and others that encourage valuable skills. However, there are also games available that can have an adverse effect. Some can be violent and expose a child to sexually explicit and violent content.
Research can be conflicting and confusing, but the general findings are, as long as the content is age appropriate and screen times allowances are met, then they are safe to use. A study by the National Literacy Trust (NLT), the Association of UK Interactive Entertainment and Penguin Random house found that in older children, video gaming had a positive impact on literacy and communication skills. They found that children developed empathy, creativity and even literacy skills. Game playing had encouraged them to write their own tips and create their own video scripts.
Gaming is a minefield and can feel like yet another difficult decision for a parent to make in life. Most of our generation did not have the access to technology that children do now, so that can make it a daunting decision. There is no right or wrong answer, just the need to implement gaming safety procedures and to have an awareness of what your child is up to.