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From virtual worlds to multiplayer online games, motion-control consoles to mobile apps, there's no limit to how or where kids can play video games. For adults, all the options can be overwhelming. But there's some good news for parents of gamers: With so many options, it's a lot easier to find great games.
Video games have come a long way. Parents today don't have to choose between wildly violent first-person shooters or dull educational titles. There are tons of exciting and engaging games that can enhance what kids are learning in school and help them develop skills for future life and work success. Some of the best video games can help kids develop their communication, team building, and problem-solving skills. And more games now include physical activities that get kids off the couch and moving.
That said, the positive aspects of gaming also come with some risks. Many video games have violent themes, and some studies link kids' exposure to violent video games with increased aggression and lack of empathy. And gaming isn't cheap. With new titles coming out regularly, the costs -- as well as the time kids spend on these devices -- can add up quickly.
Tips for all kids
- Make sure games are age-appropriate. Know the content of what your kids play, both at home and at friends' houses.
- Establish limits. Be firm from the beginning about how much time kids can play. Some parents set an overall daily media usage time and let kids decide which of the many forms of media they wish to use on a given day. And, of course, be very clear about what games your kids can play
- Find good stuff. While it might seem like kids' video games are all about shooting, you can find games that provide rich, engaging experiences that broaden kids' horizons. Common Sense Media is a great place to start finding these games.
- Be aware of multiplayer options. Games often involve some form of player interaction, multiplayer gaming, or player-generated content that kids can upload and download. Watch out for open chat and user-generated content that isn't monitored.
- Talk about online ads. Most online games offer lots of free giveaways and downloads that are often full of spyware and malware and will crash your computer sooner or later.
- Get screen savvy. Games are available on every device that has a screen -- including phones. And screens are everywhere. Count that screen time toward your kids' total game playing for the day.
Tips for preschoolers and elementary school kids
- Choose wisely. Look for games that are educational and stimulating.
- Be there for preschoolers. Sit alongside your preschoolers to help guide them and explain what the game is asking them to do.
- Restrict online communications. Many games for elementary-aged kids offer online components like chat. We don't recommend these features for young children. If they're offered, you can usually disable them.
- Carefully consider game site subscription fees. Many online games charge a fee instead of showing ads. There are pros and cons to paying, but either way, your kids will beg to join if their friends use the site. It's your money, so check out the site yourself to see whether it's worth the price.
Tips for middle school kids
- Set multiplayer controls you're comfortable with. Preteen and teen games offer additional player interaction, multiplayer action, or player-generated content that kids can upload and download. But these features can be controlled by the player, so set the controls you're comfortable with.
- Watch language. The language in multiplayer games can get pretty intense. If you aren't comfortable with what you hear, use the parental controls that disable online play.
- Be on the lookout for violence. Violence ramps up quickly in many games. Check what your kids are playing, and limit those games that you feel are excessively violent.
Tips for high school kids
- Be aware of highly addictive games. Games like Call of Duty: Black Ops II let kids play against others anywhere in cyberspace. They're designed to take up tons of time, and it's up to you to curb it. As with any battle you may have with your children, you have your work cut out for you.
- Stay involved. Continue to talk to teens about their gaming lives, and look for games that help reinforce your family's values.
- Watch spending. Games are expensive, and many offer in-game purchases. Talk to your teens about how much money they're spending on gaming and whether that money could be better spent elsewhere.