Good Digital Parenting
Blog | May 29, 2014

How to Protect Your Child in the Gaming World

Spring Intern, Family Online Safety Institute

So, your child plays video games? Congratulations! 

 According to a recent release from the Entertainment Software Association, your child isn’t alone. In fact, 181.3 million Americans play video games, and 51 percent of U.S. households own a game console. Video games are a great way for people of all ages and background to express themselves and show off their skills and talents without the fear of being criticized based on their physical characteristics, unless of course they willingly divulge that information. But how do you keep your child safe in this fast-growing entertainment sphere? As a person who has played video games since I was six, I can tell you about the joys and the dangers of gaming, but first let’s cover the basics. 

 Know What Your Child is Playing 

You should always know what games your child is playing. If you have time, try playing some of the games your child likes to understand the different themes of the games. If you find a game to be too violent or think it’s not a good way for your child to spend their time, then sit down with them and try to find some alternative titles you can agree on or set up stricter time limits. If you understand the themes of the various games and find theme acceptable, you could use the game as a learning experience for you and your child in the future. 

Learning from the Gaming Experience 

Many video games teach subconscious and conscious skills that your child can use in the future. For example, games such as Civilization can be used to teach your child about different ancient and modern civilizations, and also about the tenants of strategy and running a complex economy. Other games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield 4 can be used to increase your child’s reaction time and hand-to-eye coordination skills. (Please note that these two games are generally suitable for ages 17 and older.) Minecraft is another popular game that teaches kids mathematical and analytical skills. So, have a conversation with your child about what they’re learning from the games they play. 

The Culture of the Game 

Around every video game there is a community, and every community has its own stigmas and culture. If your child gets involved in a video game, particularly an online game, it’s important they understand what that culture entails. Games such as Call of Duty or League of Legends that require quick reaction times and involve team play, but not much actual communication between players, typically require players be skilled enough to not drag the team down. Whereas for games such as World of Warcraft or other long term commitment games, the requirements are completely different and depend on who your child decides to hang out with online. This is the hardest part of gaming culture to understand, as it requires a lot of involvement not only by your child, but also by you. When participating in a gaming culture, it’s extremely important to avoid conflict and harassment online. 

Sportsmanship 

The main problem with the gaming community, which, in my opinion, is used by media too often to criticize those who play video games, is the lack of sportsmanship by a vocal minority of players. Due to the innate anonymity of the Internet, there is little to no punishment for a player who is a poor sport or who treats others badly. Currently, companies have resorted to banning or suspension of those who violate their code of conduct, and while this serves to remove those who perpetuate abuse and harassment, it does not do much to prevent it from happening. Though some of the harassment and abuse is done by adults, a lot of it in my experience is done by kids and teenagers. Games are competitive by nature, and so just like in real life, people tend to get hotheaded if they’re losing, which can lead to verbal abuse and harassment. Be sure to teach your child the importance of sportsmanship and that behind every voice or character they see in game, is an actual person who may take their comments, both positive and negative, to heart. Raise your child to be kind in both the real and the virtual world and gaming will be a lot better for everyone. Plus, in the end, it’s only a game. 

 These four pillars are the main tenants of keeping your child safer when playing video games. While these are only the basics, I encourage you to build on these tenants and explore them as they apply to your child’s gaming habits. There are many elements to gaming that can also help children learn and grow in real life as well. So remember, know what your child is playing, consider what your child is learning from the games they play, know the culture and background behind the game, and teach your child to be a good sport, and of course – have fun! 

 Cover image courtesy of Flickr.