Whether you’re a gamer yourself or just aren’t that into them, most families cannot get around at least a little bit of video game culture. If you have young kids, it’s hard to know where to start. If your kids are a little bit older, it’s even harder to keep up. This article covers some of the major concerns about video games for kids and links to some great content on how to stay on top of everything.
How do video games affect child development?
There is an overwhelming amount of research on the pros and cons of screen time and child development. With video games specifically, the good news is that it’s not all bad. The stereotype of an isolated gamer has been challenged by research that found that over 70% of gamers play with a friend. The same research found other health and social benefits of gaming.
Research also suggests that it’s not all good either. The most compelling thing we have read suggests that screen time may create dopamine addicts. We’ve seen the monster come out of our son when we allowed him to play some very basic games on the TV before his brain was ready to regulate the dopamine rush. We were lucky to identify this early with a very small sample size though. We spoke to our doctor and together decided to put a pause on all gaming for over a year.
In short, every kid is different. Excessive screen time and unmonitored gaming definitely has the potential to contribute to unhealthy habits. Talk to your doctor and make a plan when introducing screens to your kids.
What is an appropriate age for gaming?
The simple answer here is again talk to your doctor and when you do decide to introduce video games, have a plan. Pay attention to behavior before, during, and after gaming. Pay attention to sleep patterns. Introduce things gradually and intentionally. Apply the parental controls. And most importantly, if you notice negative outcomes, continue the conversation with your doctor and do not be afraid to pull back the reigns.
For us, we allowed one of our kids to start gaming at 8 years old and the other at 6. We started with a max of 3 hours per week and all gaming was done with a parent involved. We also have a 3 year old who really wants to be like his older brothers but isn’t quite ready to play just yet. Sorry, pal.
Is it OK to let your toddler play video games?
There may be a few educational opportunities and programming available, but it is our non-medical stance that there are far superior activities that do not involve screens. We do not advocate banning screens altogether as there is some great programming available in moderation, (as well as some trash). At least when it comes to video games though, there are more productive uses of your toddler’s time.
We are lucky because Brittany is an early childhood development and education expert and knows great activities and resources at home. We also run the toy store and use our basement as a warehouse so there’s no shortage of things to do in the Baron household.
OK, where do I start with video games for kids?
As mentioned, we are a toy store. We would love to see more time dedicated to interactive, open ended play that does not involve screens… but let’s be real. Our kids are not growing up in a vacuum. Below are a collection of resources on how to get started managing the overwhelming world of gaming.
What video game console should I buy for my kids?
Choosing the right console has more to do with your lifestyle and how you envision tech time to work in your family than anything else. Do you want the kids in the family room in front of the TV so that everyone is together, or do you want something portable that you can bring on family vacation? Also think about what the neighbors are playing. Gaming has become increasingly social so it is smart to buy something that the kids can talk about with their friends. For more information, check out our guide on the best video game consoles for kids.
How to choose the right video games for my kids
There are multiple resources available to help choose appropriate video games for your kids. Rating systems like ESRB and PEGI are great places to narrow down what is and what is not appropriate. ESRB is widely used in the United States. PEGI is used more in the EU, but if you perform a search you can quickly see detailed icons that help quickly identify the game contents. Another great source is Common Sense Media, which provides reviews from child development experts as well as from other parents.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board is a non-profit regulatory body for the video game industry. The mission is the help parents make informed choices about the video games their families play.
ESRB ratings have three parts: Rating Categories, Content Descriptors, and Interactive Elements.
ESRB Rating Categories
Where to find ESRB Rating
Whether you’re buying online, in app, or in a store, the ratings are typically located in the same place: On the bottom left of the feature image. If you have trouble finding the rating on device, the ESRB website has a link that shows you where to look. You can also perform a search.
The Pan European Game Information guide is very similar to ESRB, but is just a different governing body that focuses on a different region. If you’re buying games in the United States you likely will not encounter this rating as frequently as ESRB, but some retailers on Amazon will either show both or one or the other so it is good to be aware of them.
PEGI Age Labels Explained
Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is like a clearinghouse of information on any media that our children are about to consume. We start here prior to introducing any new movie or tv show or video game to the kids. The rating system focuses on kids’ social, emotional, and physical development and begins with minimum age appropriateness. For apps, games, and websites, Common Sense Media also rates for learning potential.
In addition to the rating system, there are reviews from actual parents and from actual kids as well. To perform a search, simply enter the game you are looking for in the search bar either center-top on a desktop or on the top right on your phone. Reviews look like the image below and are pretty self explanatory.
Common Sense Media – Best Games Lists
If you’re not quite sure where to start with video games for your kids, Common Sense also has a great list of games to get you started. What are the best PS4 Games for a 5 year old? Common Sense has you covered. The best of lists allow you to filter by both age bracket as well as by platform or even style of game.
Common Sense Media Gaming Guides
Minecraft and Fortnite are super popular games that raise a lot of questions from parents. When is the right age to allow my child to play Minecraft? Common Sense Media has a few good articles that can help you decide.