3

Our son of 5 has either only heard of video games from his mates or watched video game videos (of paw patrol and the like). Personally, I haven't played video games for about 20+ years now. The last I played was Mario. I am super excited to be playing video games too and think I myself might be at the right stage to play simple games with him. However I have no idea when is a good age to introduce him to video games. He is a fairly active lad with good eye/hand coordination and can self regulate watching 2 hours of screen time (on his tablet) of watching Netflix and playing educational games.

My only concerns are I don't want to see him turn into a kid who is just playing video games all the time. And my own illiteracy of how (violent?)video games can influence a kid.

So my question is what age can I introduce my son to video games and how do I ensure they aren't influencing him negatively?

5

The WHO guidelines for screen time spans only up to five years of age, but for the upper age bracket in those guidelines, it says that sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. So while your son is slightly older than the scope of those guidelines, if the 2 hours you mention are per day, you may want to make sure that whatever video gaming screen time is introduced, it is taken from that 2 hour pot, and not added on top of 2 hours of Netflix.

The science on the detrimental effects of violence in videogames is not very conclusive; there is certainly not a broad consensus that there is a problematic effect. Notwithstanding, from a personal standpoint, I don't see the point in introducing elements of violence to a five year old. I'd pick other games.

Pre-play the games so you're comfortable with what you're exposing your child to.

You say you're keen to play with your child. While I'm not opposed to video games in any way, this is the only reason I see to actively encourage gameplay. Make gaming something that is not universally available whenever your child is bored, but something you do together. That way, you can easily moderate the amount of time your child spends gaming, and be around to discuss anything potentially problematic you encounter during gameplay, while at the same time making sure the screen time is high quality. Being sedentary is only one of the problem areas of screen time; another problem is that it takes time away from other activities, such as social interaction. By making game play a social activity, you mitigate at least that factor.

3
  • Are there any video game consoles or games that you recommend as a good starting point for us? – happybuddha Sep 10 '20 at 2:11
  • 1
    @hap: I'm not well read up on current games I'm afraid. I'm a sucker for sharing with my kids the things I'm nostalgic about, so an old Nintendo console and a Mario game would be a fine introduction I think. – dxh Sep 10 '20 at 7:04
  • 1
    @happybuddha One game I would strongly recommend is Overcooked/Overcooked 2 for the Nintendo Switch. – deworde Sep 10 '20 at 18:58
2

Don't.

This is counter-cultural advice, to be sure.

I base it on what I've seen in my own children. Video games displace important things in a kid's life:

They lose the ability to persist at a difficult task

Most tasks in video games aren't that difficult. Even considering a game like Minecraft or Stardew Valley or Factorio where there's a lot of building or working out complex systems, it's a very different thing from being persistent at a real-life skill.

A real-life skill, like drawing or woodworking or playing the piano, doesn't usually give instant feedback. Video games make things easy, and they also nearly always make it clear whether you're doing the right thing. This blunts the ability in real life to keep at something when the feedback isn't always clear, or may not even exist.

It's similar to the contrast between learning a language by talking to people and learning a language with something like Duolingo. In real life the feedback is messier, and can seem not worth the effort compared to a prepackaged language-learning system.

They lose interest in doing other things

I wouldn't say either one of them is hopeless at this point. My daughter (who is 10) in particular spends time on creative tasks; over several days she drew elaborate cards for her elementary school friends who will be at the same school next year (Realschule, here in Germany).

But she did this because she was grounded from the computer for four days. Fortunately she was still able to find a way to entertain herself and was still willing to put forth that kind of effort.

My son, when he's grounded from the computer or simply has exceeded the amount of time we allow him in a single day, can't seem to find anything to do. He lies around bored. Sometimes he reads. But I can already see that his attention span has suffered from years of electronic entertainment. Reading or bicycle riding or drawing (which he used to enjoy) don't hold his interest by comparison. (Honestly, I can see it in myself, too. I can only sit and read for so long before I feel that "itch" to grab my phone or go sit in front of my PC.)

Maybe you're going to do it anyway, though

In that case, spend some time thinking of some firm rules. Here's one you might try: No video games unless you play them together. This keeps video games a social activity, and hopefully keeps the time fairly limited. It encourages choosing games that are pleasant to play together, and gives you veto power over games (though hopefully you'd have that anyway). It also lets you closely observe the effect games have on your son so you can shut down problematic ones that encourage rudeness, addiction, and other undesirable behaviors.

10
  • 1
    +1. Your "if you do it anyway" covers everything I wrote about how to introduce gaming, while being elaborate on the reasons not to, so certainly an answer I'll favor over my own – dxh Sep 9 '20 at 19:20
  • 2
    i will have to disagree on the point of "They lose the ability to persist at a difficult task" one of the main reasons i game sometimes is for the (intellectual) challenge it can provide. – A.bakker Sep 9 '20 at 21:34
  • @A.bakker How are you at persisting at difficult tasks that have nothing to do with video gaming? – Kyralessa Sep 10 '20 at 5:55
  • 3
    @Kyralessa very well, i had 2 college degrees by the time i was 24 and that was with taking half a year off due to medical reasons. – A.bakker Sep 10 '20 at 6:34
  • 1
    "Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do" – deworde Sep 11 '20 at 5:57
2

This is one of those things where I think the experience is going to depend greatly on the child in question. I've seen kids where they become obsessed and never want to do or think about anything else. I've seen others who don't care a whole lot. Some have problems with any kind of long term goals and delayed gratification. Others actually get a lot better at it (I suspect that was in part due to the kind of games they were playing, but that's just my own speculation). Disclaimer: most of these kids were a bit older than your child, but I think the advice here applies regardless.

Overall, I'd just be careful when introducing it and make sure you set expectations / lay the ground rules. For example:

  • For now, we play games together, not by ourselves.
  • You get to have veto power over what kind of games you play. If it's too violent or has game play that fosters addictive behavior you can ban that game from your house.
  • Time is limited to so much per day.
  • If your child starts developing an attitude or starts acting in undesirable ways, there will be a hiatus from games. This could be to help your child cleanse, find other passions, etc.
  • Anything else that you are worried about and want to combat early.

I was introduced to gaming when I was about 4 years old. My parents always made sure we never spent too much time gaming and would throw us outside to play if we had been on there too long.

Gaming is my passion and is something I love to do with my free time now. Some people might think I spend too much time on it, but I'd probably argue that they spend too much time on things I don't find valuable, so to each his own I guess.

I will say that gaming has given me a love for technology that launched me into software development. That has been a great career path for me. Gaming taught me plenty of skills that have translated into useful life skills. Some team oriented games taught me how to lead a group of people to complete a task. Some games that had larger goals taught me how to plan and break down a problem into tasks I could complete in a short play session. Some games taught me the value of practice and perseverance (some games were hard as hell, the only way to win was to practice and get better).

Not all games are good ones. More games now have tendencies to employ manipulative and addiction-inducing tactics to keep people playing (and paying) compared to what I grew up with. Evaluating the games you and your child play is an important part of making sure gaming is a positive, uplifting experience rather than something that causes problems.

TL/DR: take it slow, lay down some basic expectations, re-evaluate how gaming impacts you somewhat often, evaluate what you are playing vigorously, realize games can be good things if you work to make it so.

4
  • I see adults I work with obsessed with video games. So much, that they lock themselves in a room and ignore their families (wife and young kids). This is another fear factor I have. Are there any video game consoles or games that you recommend as a good starting point for us? – happybuddha Sep 10 '20 at 2:03
  • 1
    @happybuddha Personally, I would start with something that doesn't have an online component to it. (Online games have a greater tendency to employ addictive tactics, certainly not all of them. Mobile games also have a greater tendency to do this or to shove ads in your face every few minutes.) Nintendo is what I was raised on an their games tend to be pretty family friendly. I see other people have recommended Minecraft, which is on multiple platforms. Minecraft is what I call digital Legos. I've only ever played in creative mode which lets you just build whatever you can dream up. – Becuzz Sep 10 '20 at 13:07
  • 1
    @happybuddha I'd look at age recommendations and look at online reviews to get a better idea of what a game is about and if it would be a good fit. Maybe also look for videos on YouTube so you can see some game play before you buy. – Becuzz Sep 10 '20 at 13:08
  • 1
    @happybuddha +1 for Nintendo. I think they're going to be re-releasing many of the old Mario games, which are great games for kids. My kid also loved the Pokemon games at that age--talk about building memory and strategy and reading skills. Finally, look up Animal Crossing. Great for reading and pro-social, constructive behaviors and creativity. When your kid is a few years older, look into some of the Zelda series--they have monster-slaying in them as well as a lot of problem/puzzle solving. If you are in the US, games come with an ESRB rating to help you pick: www.esrb.org. – SnappingShrimp Sep 21 '20 at 3:48
2

Speaking from personal experience, my father is a gamer and one of my oldest pictures was me as baby with a controller in hands :)

Gaming had a positive effect on my life on educational and social development.

Educationally speaking, English isn't my first language (not even my second) but thanks to gaming (which is mostly in English) i was able to speak/read basic English when i was around 5. It also did wonders for my mathematical skills seeing i was 2 years ahead when i was in elementary/grade school because for some games i had to be able to dot he mathematics to be able to complete certain levels.

The thing is...it's all about the type of game they play. Even now i am still learning thanks to gaming. Hearts of Iron is a game that is currently keeping me entertained, it's a strategy game about world war 2 and i can honestly say i learned more about geography from this game in half a year while enjoying myself then in 4 years of high school. And also the depth and detail it provides about the historical aspects of the second world war thought me a lot about why certain decisions (like the appeasement tactics of the British) were taken.

I also noticed that Kyralessa mentions "They lose the ability to persist at a difficult task" but in my experience i have to say the opposite...and again it's all about the type of game you do. Using Hearts Of Iron as an Example again, i played as the Netherlands(My home country) and successfully defended it against an German invasion... it wasn't easy and i wasn't successful the first time and that's the same for many games. One of the first games i played (without help that is) was Red Alert when i was around 8 years old. I got mercilessly defeated time and time again. But each time i got better and better and eventually i won. And i think games help a lot with this because with a lot of other things...when you fail people see you fail and of course kids are afraid of disappointing people. But with a game you can try again without anybody judging you.

On the social front it also helped me a lot, i grew up in a small town and didn't really have people to connect to. When i was 12 i started online gaming and i have met a lot of my current friends there. My best friend for the last half of my life i met online and we now see each other often in real life. And another point about how this is "easier" with games is because it is easy to just say good bye. When going in real life and you don't like a person (in your class or in your neighborhood) you are stuck with that person. Online you can just block them and give your attention to people you actually like, it also gives you the option to bond with people about what you like/who you are instead of superficial things like appearance.

Also people seem to forget that games are in a sense a form of art like books are. Take Skyrim for example, it has a beautifully told story with a majestic scenery. Something that can and has inspired people to create works of art of their own based on it or inspired by it. (For Example:) ". Also in the game the player can choose what path the main character will take, will he choose to join the rebels and fight for freedom or the government and fight for order. Moral choices that have long lasting effects on the story.

So what i am trying to say, games can have a wonderfull effect as long as they play the right ones.

Hack and Slash games or by the dozen shooters are not really that productive but:

  • creation games like minecraft can be a good creative outlet
  • strategy games like Hearts of Iron can teach a lot about long term thinking/history/geogrpahy
  • MMO's like World Of warcraft can teach a lot about social interaction and teamwork.
  • RPG's like Skyrim and Dragon Age can be like books and teach about morality and the consequences of choices.

On the point if the games are suitable, just like with movies there are parental advisors that suggest an age and a lot of game hosting platforms (Blizzard and Steam for example) have parental controls where you can set the amount of time your child can play or at what hours. So if you take the time to read up on the platform your child plays his games on you can keep it under management.

4
  • Are there any video game consoles or games that you recommend as a good starting point for us? – happybuddha Sep 10 '20 at 2:10
  • "in my experience i have to say the opposite" Keep in mind that I'm talking about the ability to persist in a difficult non-video-gaming task. A real life task. Of course gaming aids in the ability to persist in gaming. That's not what I'm concerned about. Real life is messier and far less straightforward, and simply doesn't have the kind of reward structure that is built into most games these days. Upgrades of real-life skills don't come with a musical chime and a gold star and aren't necessarily even easily detectable. – Kyralessa Sep 10 '20 at 5:58
  • 2
    @Kyralessa well bring the musical chime and a gold star. I'm currently tutoring my two 4 year old nieces in reading/writing and basic math. I use little sound effects on my phone whenever the finish an assignment correctly and use stickers..which they sometimes put on me :| Just don't do it with every little thing they accomplish. Build it down over time :) – A.bakker Sep 10 '20 at 6:39
  • 2
    @happybuddha i would personally go with a Personal computer (or tablet) there are those designed for kids with easy things on them to learn. One of my best friends has a 7 year old daughter who loves to play mine craft in a creative way, that friend learned her to write her own name using the blocks in the game for example. it's a good way to trick kids in to learning if you guide them. – A.bakker Sep 10 '20 at 6:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.