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Video Games: Grade Schoolers

Gradeschoolers playing video games

As children get older, they devote more of their time to games. Sports teams, playground activities, Girl Scout or Boy Scout challenges, and board games are just a few of the fun ways in which children this age explore concepts such as rules, competition and collaboration.

Though video games can be quite different from hide-and-seek and Monopoly, they can offer some of the same benefits: team play, for example, or strategic thinking skills. But video games also can deliver troubling social messages, such as "Girls aren't as good as boys" or "Bullies get their way." Just as you monitor the types of unplugged games your child plays, stay in touch with what your child is playing on screens, big or small, mobile or stationary.

9 Ways to Make the Most of Digital Games

  1. Talk to your child about the games he likes to play.
    Games fall into different genres. There's no way of knowing what your child finds appealing unless you ask. You may discover one or more of the following motivations: a desire for competition; interest in getting lost in a fantasy world; a wish to solve problems; an attraction to the sense of power at performing superhuman feats; a desire to connect with others; or the popularity of a game among peers.
  2. Check video-game ratings and reviews before you let your child play a game.
    The Entertainment Software Rating Board rates all computer and video computer games and offers rating summaries as a way for parents to find out what type of content is in a game. Many websites offer both editorial and consumer reviews such as Common Sense Media. After you and your child have read and talked about a few reviews, rent or borrow a game to give it a trial run before you buy.
  3. Stress the social aspects of game play, whether they are stand-alone or accessible through a social networking site.
    Look for games that allow multiple players or team play. Encourage your child to see the communal side of video and mobile games by swapping game-playing hints with friends. And don't be afraid to play along yourself. These steps may help discourage your child from using digital games as a solo retreat.
  4. Introduce your child to how games are made.
    Help your child realize that games do not magically materialize in stores; instead, they are the creative output of people — even children, in some cases. Check out Scratch, a game-making program for kids, and visit the Video Game Revolution’s series “Inside the Games” for a behind-the-scenes look from pre-production to character creation to writing the code.
  5. Help your child limit the time he spends playing, even games that are educational or involve physical movement.
    Work with your child to prioritize physical activity, homework, and spending time with friends and family over game playing.
  6. Watch out for negative images of girls and women.
    In addition to presenting unrealistic and exposed female bodies, many games direct violence at female (as well as male) characters. If your child plays these games, talk to him about what he thinks of the female characters. It's important for your child to hear you speak out against images and ideas you find objectionable.
  7. Be vigilant about violence.
    Avoid games that portray killing as either justified or free of consequences. Talk to your child about how real-life violence differs from the violent acts he may see fantasy characters perform. Steer clear of "first-person shooter" games, in which your child takes on the identity of a violent character.
  8. Use parental controls.
    All consoles and handheld game systems today have password-protected parental controls that let you restrict what games can be played by ESRB rating. Some even let parents control when games can be played, for how long, and with whom.
  9. Monitor gameplay, particularly if games are being played online with others.
    Many of today's video games are online-enabled, allowing players to collaborate, compete and chat with others online. But just as with the Internet, parents should monitor what their children are exposed to and who they are interacting with.

5 Tips for Choosing Digital Games

  1. Look for activities that let your child feel he is doing something "real."
    "Real" activities may include finding a recipe and preparing an actual dish; writing a letter and mailing it to a real person; and making a newsletter and printing it out.
  2. Identify websites and software that encourage your child to explore.
    Your child may be drawn to fantasy worlds that enable him to feel powerful, all-knowing, all-capable or creative. Digital games that give him chances to expand on such fantasies can be an important outlet.
  3. Find activities that allow your child to make original art.
    A rich choice of colors and textures will give your child a chance to experiment with the visual qualities of his creation. So, too, will the option to animate items or sort them into a sequence.
  4. Look for games that permit your child to experiment with music.
    You may want to seek out a console game or a website that allows your child to play with rhythmic patterns, to learn songs, to perform routines, and to record and save tunes.
  5. Use software and screen time to develop social skills.
    Giving younger children a sense of fair play is more important than maximizing their chances of winning. Find games that encourage turn-taking or games that emphasize honing a skill rather than beating an opponent. As children get older and become more intent on winning, this groundwork will ensure they play their opponents fairly.
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