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Video Games: Pre-Teens


Boy playing a video game

As children get older, the time they spend playing digital games often increases, taking the place of other activities, such as watching TV. It's easy to see why pre-teens find video games so appealing: Skill is required to use the controls; elaborate rules must be understood and mastered; and children this age have a growing interest in exploring the world and their place in it. Plus, games embedded in popular social networking sites and available on cell phones and other portable devices just make them easy to find — and fun!

Many popular video games, though, are rife with violence, unrealistic images of men's and women's bodies, and a lack of racial diversity among characters. Still, you can take steps to make your pre-teen's experience a positive one. Talk to her about the games she plays, helping her interpret what she sees and experiences and challenging ideas she may be adopting. Taking an interest in the games and websites that captivate your child will give you invaluable insight into her interests.

8 Ways to Make the Most of Digital Games

  1. Talk to your child about the games she likes to play.
    See what connections your pre-teen is making between himself and video game characters. Make sure he is aware of the real-life consequences of what he sees on screen. Ask why games are appealing: Is it the competitive aspect? Getting lost in a fantasy world? The ability to solve problems? Having a sense of power and performing superhuman feats? Or is it the popularity that a game has among friends as often can be the case with those in social networking sites?
  2. Get to know the video games your child plays at home and with friends.
    Guides, reviews, parent recommendations and other resources can help you make informed choices about which games your child plays. You can also check a game's ESRB rating to get a sense of whether it's appropriate for your child. After you've read and talked about some reviews, such as those from Common Sense Media, rent or borrow a game to give it a trial run before you buy.
  3. Watch out for negative images of women and other cultures.
    In addition to unrealistic and exposed female bodies, many video games direct violence toward female (as well as male) characters. Talk to your preteen about what she thinks of the game's female characters. Try to find out what your child is learning about other people and cultures from the characters. Speak out against any images or ideas you find objectionable.
  4. Help your child set limits on her playing time, even with games that are educational or have movement built into them.
    Researchers believe that young people become overweight when screen time takes the place of physical and social activities. Help your child learn to value physical activity, homework and time spent with friends and family above game playing.
  5. Emphasize the social aspects of game play.
    Look for digital games that allow multiple players to play as a team. Encourage your pre-teen to see the communal side of games by swapping playing tips with other players online or with friends. These steps can keep screen games from becoming your child's solo retreat. But don't forget to check back from time to time to make sure you are comfortable with whom they are playing and the nature of the game play and communication taking place.
  6. Introduce your preteen 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, sometimes even children. 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.
  7. Teach your pre-teen how to detect product placement and other advertising.
    Marketers use video games to build brand exposure and to associate their products with what is cool. When you see a video character using or wearing name-brand merchandise, point it out. When a product or song appears in the background, explain to your child that it's there because a company paid the video-game maker to put it there.
  8. Avoid games that show characters solving conflict by violent means.
    Steer clear of "first-person shooter" games — those in which your preteen takes on the identity of a violent character. When your child sees a character hitting, kicking or biting to solve a problem, point it out. Then ask your child to suggest another way the problem might have been resolved.
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