I am not an expert parent, but I am a gamer, a parent, and a parent to a gamer. So this is my advice.
- Parent, you may not be a gamer. You may not enjoy gaming, but that doesn’t mean it is a waste of time, and it hurts my feelings when you say that. I feel like you’re telling me that I’m a waste of time- and I’m the parent/gamer. Now imagine what this does to a kid when they hear that.
- Enforcing good sportsmanship is absolutely essential for young gamers. I have a zero tolerance policy for “rage-quit” and all gaming activity will cease if there are any outbursts or worse, throwing of equipment. While it is perfectly acceptable to be upset about failing that boss fight YET AGAIN, there is no reason to yell or throw things.
- Commit to doing research. A lot of games are targeting older teens and young adults. They’re not going to be okay for your elementary-school child…and that’s okay. Sometimes, going back to older games is actually more tolerable, as it reduces the “gore”/ick factor. My husband and son have a blast playing games like Perfect Dark together, but we were not okay with our son playing Halo yet.
- I do not enjoy all of the games my son enjoys…so I figured out which ones I COULD tolerate, and suggest one of those. “I don’t want to play X, but I will play Y or Z with you.” This reinforces a lot of other positive things, too- setting boundaries, suggesting compromises, respecting the boundaries of others, etc.
- Minecraft is a fun game, and kids can learn how to build their own mods- which open up a whole new realm of thinking, problem-solving, and future career opportunities for them. They can start off in creative mode (nothing scary happens) and just learn how to build things!
- There are a lot of interesting board games out there, and they can be an acceptable compromise when you are positive that one single more second staring at a screen will damage their eyes or brains or SOMETHING. Stratego and Carcassonne are two games I like. If you have 4-5 people, Robot Turtle is fun and teaches basic programming concepts.
- A Wii U is a great console for younger kids! The +1 is that the controller has a screen on it and it can be used independently of the TV being turned on. The family-friendly options have been well worth it.
- If you are going to get into games like Skylanders, look for them second hand. He will grow out of it soon enough and your bank account will thank you. I’m pretty sure a little part of me died when my son didn’t want to play Skylanders anymore and we had a collection that I’d spent around $2-3k since it first came out- over time, it adds up!
- I try to find ways to incorporate other creative elements into video gaming time. For example, I like to alternate with a non-screen activity, such as art- even if they want to draw what is in their video game, that’s okay!
- Avoid LIKE THE PLAGUE any game with micro transactions. You have been warned.
- Understand that there is nothing more frustrating than someone demanding immediate attention when I am video gaming! Please consider the following :
- Say my name FIRST before you talk to me- we will both be less frustrated. I am deeply engrossed in a mental process and you may finish your entire sentence before I even begin to realize you are talking to me. I’m not being rude, I’m just already doing something else!
- Time warnings – “when you get to your next save point, it’s time to turn off the game” or “in ten minutes, the game needs to be turned off” are helpful because then I can get to a save point or work out what I need to do before the power goes away.
- It is no light thing to lose a game that hasn’t been saved. Please don’t turn off the CONSOLE if I am just not paying attention. Turning the TV off will get my attention in an equal fashion (and then I will apologize, save and quit…)
- Practice this sentence BEFORE you have to say it and mean it: “I will buy you that new game when you finish (the other one you were dying to play and told me that it was super important so I bought it for you).”
Some games we play in our home (the platforms that I’m aware of are in parenthesis):
- Carcassonne (board game)
- Final Fantasy games, but these are probably specific to our family. They’re usually a little sad. Okay maybe a lot sad, who didn’t cry when Aeris died? I didn’t even like her at ALL and I still was sobbing when it happened.
- Godzilla (PS4)
- Mario Kart (Wii)
- Minecraft (PC, Xbox, PS, iOS, Android). This has been such a fun game for us that we have our own family server(s): both a regular (“vanilla”) Minecraft server, and a Pixelmon server, which is like a Pokemon version of Minecraft.
- Perfect Dark (my husband and son play the PVP part of the game together)
- Pokemon (Wii, 3DS)
- Portal/Portal 2 is a particular favorite in our household. The dry sarcasm is fantastic for me, and I love all of the puzzle-solving that goes on in the game. We play these together.
- Ratchet and Clank (PS4)
- Rocket League – this game is WAY more fun than you would imagine. (PC, Xbox)
- Shadow of the Colossus (PS3)
- Stratego (board game)
- Superfight (card game)
- Zelda…everything. (Wii, Nintendo 3DS)
Specific recommendations for the younger crowd:
- Wii games like Mario Kart
- iOS apps that teach programming in a game-like fashion, such as Lightbot, Cato’s Hike, Hopscotch, etc.
- Minecraft (any platform)
- Pokemon (anything)
- Think about the gamertag in advance. If it’s good enough they might not be embarrassed about it when they get older. ^_^
- Don’t use any part of their real name.
- Don’t use your child’s birthdate or your house number in your gamertag.
- Don’t hook up a headset if you are going to let your kiddo play online- they’ll get to an age where they can probably handle the gameplay, but even I wouldn’t hook up a headset.
- SAY IT OUTLOUD at least once…sometimes that combination of letters and numbers will actually be something you don’t want anyone saying out loud…
Devices and internet
- Please consider getting service with decent internet speeds and no data caps. It’s just mean.
- Just because it says “gaming” in the title, that doesn’t mean it’s a better piece of equipment. Marketing is still marketing.
- Regarding gaming PCs: There are some out-of-the-box builds that work okay, but your average laptop or home computer was not made for gaming.
If you are blessed enough to do so, try not to lock into a single platform. While the best platform choice is the one that allows you to game with your friends, here are my platform recommendations as a parent gamer (in suggested order):
- Wii U – the family vibe is strong with this one. Can’t be ignored and for Zelda, Mario Kart and active sports games alone, has to be my #1 family pick.
- iPad! My son uses the first iPad I bought in 2012 and it still works just fine! I regularly play games on my iPad Air 2 as well.
- PlayStation or Xbox?
- PS4 – having owned all of the consoles personally, this one is absolutely my favorite. The wifi works better, the controllers are smaller (better for smaller hands!) and the titles offered are ones that we have really enjoyed.
- Xbox – this is a super common platform so it might win out over the PlayStation, simply because it’s more fun to play a game when your friends are playing it too! It probably has a larger selection of gaming titles, I think.
- PC is my personal preference for gaming – but it’s an art. It’s okay to save this one until they get a little older.