The specific concerns parents have about gaming are very similar to the overall issues parents have with regard to technology: time spent, interaction with strangers, and inappropriate content. Some of the top games kids are playing include Madden (NFL and Mobile), FIFA 16, Star Wars Uprising, Avengers Alliance, Crossy Road, Trivia Crack, Minecraft and Call of Duty. Most games for Android, iOS, Xbox, PS4 and others have an interactive component. This means, kids can join up with friends (or strangers) to play together. So what can parents do to address their concerns? Parents can empower themselves to take the lead in online safety instruction. Following are my top 5 tips for parents to get started.
Keep an Open Dialogue
First, I tell parents the most important action they can take is to talk to their kids. Ask them about the games they are playing. Learn what the goals of the game are, how it is played and try to get your child to verbalize the skills needed to succeed. Don't be judgmental or dismissive about their game playing. Keep an open mind and try to understand the attraction to the games they like to play. Video games are an important part of socializing today for kids so part of the draw is the ability to play and discuss strategies with friends. Plus, gaming helps kids to develop digital, cooperative and problem solving skills that they will need for future success.
Use Resource Guides
Next, educate yourself with the age ratings and guides available. Use resources like the Electronic Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings guide, the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) or the International Age Rating Coalition. These resources will help you to make an informed decision about what games are allowed in your home. Mobile gaming can be a bit trickier as the Age Rating in the iOS and Android App Stores can conflict with the actual intended and appropriate audience suggestion. For mobile games, you need to know what content may be inappropriate but you also need to be aware of any interactive elements of the game such as a players ability to interact with others, sharing of personal or location information and in-app purchases. It's best to do some research ahead of time so you are ready to explain to your kids the reasoning behind the game restriction decisions you have made.
Set Parental Controls
The tech industry has responded to concerns for child safety with parental controls and settings virtually across the board. Gaming systems like PS4, Xbox and Wii have customization options for limiting game playing time, approval of online friend requests and which ESRB-rated games are allowed for each user. You can also set restrictions for downloading games across the gaming systems and other digital devices like tablets and smartphones.
Set Ground Rules
Discuss and set the game playing rules up front. Whatever your rules may be (for example no gaming before homework is complete, no gaming after 9pm, no in-app purchases, no rated M games) make sure you agree to the terms with your kids before a new game is handed over.
Play with Your Kids
You are likely going to lose, but... try the game. Show your child you are interested in what they are playing and you want to understand their interest. You may not be the most challenging opponent, but you've made the effort to understand why they like to play.
You should also note that kids are searching YouTube and apps like Twitch to watch and share videos of popular gamers, high scores, and game tricks and strategies. Some of the videos can contain questionable language, so be prepared.
Parenting today's digitally connected kids can be challenging. But you can do it! It's not unlike parenting itself. Take one step at a time, tap in to helpful resources, learn as you go and be present.
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.