Video games today are nearly ubiquitous. With a bit of planning, they can be great learning tools and even fun for the whole family. If you’re just getting into gaming with your children, though, it’s hard to know where to start.

What to look for in a gaming console for kids?

When buying for your kids, there are a few things to think about. We have an entire guide on how to get started with video games. Most importantly, think about your use case. Below are a series of questions that might help decide:

  • Where do you want your kids playing games? On the TV? As a handheld? Both?
  • Do you envision bringing your console with you on family trips or do you want to limit game time to a specific time and place in your home?
  • Do you want a system that is suitable for the entire family or do you want something smaller and more education focused specifically made for small children?
  • This may sound lame, but what are your kid’s friends playing? Gaming has become an increasingly social activity and if you’re going to drop a couple hundred bucks on a system, you don’t want to be the only kid on the block using one platform when everyone else is talking about something else.

Other things to think about are the type of parental controls available and the selection of games. Obviously price is a factor as well. In our guide below, we broke it down:

  • Best portable and overall console for kids: Nintendo Switch
  • Best entry level console: Microsoft Xbox Series S or PlayStation 4
  • Best console to make the neighbors jealous: PlayStation 5 or XBox Series X

Should I buy a video game console or a PC?

Before we get into the best of list, we have thought about this question of console vs PC again and again. Surprisingly there aren’t as many opinions online about this topic because most families opt directly for a gaming console. Again the decision comes down mostly to where and how you want to spend tech time.

For younger kiddos, a PC or even a tablet is more than just a viable option. It may be the best option for you. You can mimic some of what is going on in a school environment by downloading and installing the same software that the kids use in class. Kids can get used to things like text editors, typing on a keyboard, and navigating a touchpad or touch screen as well.

On the flip side, however, any device with access to a search engine is exceptionally dangerous for kids. Be sure to do your homework on parental controls before going this route. PC’s will typically cost more to own long term. Configuring that gaming environment may also require more technical skill than simply plugging in the Nintendo Switch. If you plan on buying a PC for your kid anyway though and feel like having them on a PC rather than a console helps resist the screen time urge a bit, PC’s or tablets still may be the right choice for you.

Best portable and overall console for kids: Nintendo Switch

If you want a console that you can play either on the TV or take to go, the Nintendo Switch is a great option. With classics like Mario Kart, Super Mario, and Legend of Zelda, the Switch has games suitable for your younger kiddos as well as titles that the whole family will enjoy.

For more information on how to choose specific games, check out our beginners guide to video games for kids. Common Sense Media also has a great list of Nintendo Switch options.

Best entry level console for families: Microsoft XBox Series S or PlayStation 4

If you want a console that has more titles that can be played together as a family, or if you have multiple kids at different age brackets, a higher level system like XBox or PlayStation may be the way to go. While the XBox Series S and the PlayStation 4 are not the latest or greatest from either manufacturer, they still have plenty of high powered and fun games the whole family can enjoy at a more affordable price.

Just know that both systems offer games that may not be suitable for younger players. They both also offer XBox Live and PS Plus, which allow gamers to chat and share videos with each other. Both XBox and PlayStation have parental controls to limit things such as the following:

  • Which games can be played by whom
  • Which movies and TV shows can be watched
  • Family time limits
  • Access to chat and communication platforms such as XBox Live and PS Plus

CommonSense Media also has a great list of party games for families and friends. These games are great ways to encourage family interaction during game time.

Best console to make the neighbors jealous or for serious gamers: Playstation 5 or XBox Series X

If you’ve gotten this far, you probably already have a serious gamer in the house. The XBox Series X was designed to be the most powerful gaming console ever made. The PlayStation 5, launched in November 2020, also continues to be one of the most sought after systems. Both systems have backwards compatibility so all of the games that you may have enjoyed on earlier versions should also work here.

As with the PlayStation 4 and the XBox Series X, however, keep in mind that the target audience for these systems are not young children. If you go this route, be especially diligent when buying new games. Also be aware of how and if your children interact with their friends or other gamers. If you need a little help, we turn again to CommonSense Media, as they maintain a great list of non-violent video games.