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Should I let my son play computer games?

December 14th, 2008 / 7 Comments

A mom asked me: “My 8-year-old son wants to have a few friends over to play computer games. The kids will each bring their own laptops so they can play online together. Should I let them? Shouldn’t they be doing other things if they are going to spend time together?”

First, let’s consider the bigger picture::

1. Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) are not just for the few hardcore gamers, but are mainstream games popular with many kids now. Their popularity is growing, and they are here to stay. Instead of Monopoly, it’s World of Warcraft.

2. If you have a computer at home, chances are, your kids will discover the thrill of computer games. Unless you live in a cave on a deserted island, your kids will hear about and talk about computer games at school.

3. Boys are much more likely than girls to be hooked on computer games. They have a natural need for adventure, competition, and desire for mastery. That’s what makes them men – hunters and conquerors.

4. The younger the child starts playing hours of computer games, the more likely he will get addicted to games as he gets older.

What I am saying is, this issue of gaming for young children has become a big issue. With that in mind, you can not expect a simple yes/no answer to your dilemma.

So my answer will be complex, involve much more parental involvement, and probably not what you want to hear. Keep an open mind as you read my 8 Step Plan:

1. Apparently your son is already playing online games with his friends. Isn’t it better to have them play in your house under your supervision? I would welcome his friends to come over to play, rather than not knowing who he is playing with.

2. Before his friends come, find out what games they like to play. Then you (or maybe your husband) should log on and learn to play the games yourself. Test to see what the game is like, what’s good and what’s bad about it. First-hand experience allows you to talk to your son in an intelligent manner, gives you credibility when you warn him of dangers, as well as gives you some insight into the personality of your son.

3. Let’s compare this to an offline example. Suppose your son wants to play tennis, wouldn’t you be researching about where the best tennis classes are, what type of age appropriate racket to buy, and who he is playing tennis with?

In this age of computers, we as parents need to apply the same diligence to the online arena. Educate yourself on the computer games that your son is interested in. Google more information on the games and find reviews about them. Join some parenting forums and ask others for their opinions. I keep up with the latest information by talking to the young adults at my church.

4. Before the friends come, discuss with your son the amount of time they will play. Do this diplomatically. Begin by asking your son how long he expects to play. If he says a reasonable amount – one to two hours would be within range for his age – then you’re set.

If he wants an excessive amount of time like 3-4 hours, your knowledge of the game will come in handy. You know generally how long it takes to finish a game, and you know if the game can be saved and continued another day. You can discuss this with your son and come to an agreement of, say 1 1/2 hours.

5. As mentioned above, boys have a need to do “boy things.” and work out their energy. So plan ahead to take the boys away from the computers after their game time and get them to sweat a little. DO NOT expect them to happily turn off their computers and find a quiet board game to entertain themselves. DO NOT say, “Just go find something else to do.” Computer/video games are their culture and their default position. They need your help to proactively find other forms of activity.

Take them to the park with a basketball or frisbee or whatever sport they like. Take them to those laser tag places where their need for conquest can be satisfied. Take them to those indoor rock climbing places if there is one near you.

6. Explain your plan to the friends’ parents. I am sure they would appreciate you limiting their kids’ use of the computer. The hidden agenda here is that this will hopefully set an example of what they can do if your son were invited to their house to play.

7. When your son’s friends are at your house, let them know clearly your plans and expectations. Let them know that when the timer goes off after their allotted time, you will disconnect their computers, whether or not they are finished with their game.

During their game time, let them maximize their enjoyment by not interrupting them (they don’t want a snack, they don’t have to use the bathroom, they don’t want anything…!). Set the timer and put it in front of them. Give them a 20-minute warning before time is up to save their game, then a 5-minute warning before shut down.

When the timer rings, there is no “wait, just one more minute” or “we’re almost finished.” Simply pull the plug, literally.

8. “Hey, let’s go out for some ice cream. Then we’ll go to the park.” Be positive and upbeat, no nagging, no discussion, no negotiating for additional time.

No, life is not simple anymore. The pull of computer games is strong. If you expect games to have a healthy place in your son’s life, you must forcefully turn the wheel and steer it down the narrow path.

This is the challenge for parents in this age of computer games.

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  1. I really appreciate this post! I’ve got a gaming husband and a 5 yr old that already loves playing with the Wii. I’m fine with him playing age-appropriate games, but it does get tricky when friends are over – and I’m sure that it will only get trickier. Lots of great ideas here!

  2. cathy: moms have a tough job in controlling computer game time, esp the husband’s!!

  3. YES ! some of the funnyst times iv had are with my friends playin on my xbox online chating and then disscussing it at school after

  4. Jak: I agree there are some benefits to games 🙂

  5. is the best website for kids just learning how to use social networking. try it out! I have heard great things about it!

  6. I feel that as a teen gamer trying to immerse myself into the online community of games, guides like this are just leading parents in the wrong direction

    First of all…You parents are not gamers and no matter how many little free trials you play you will just never understand. just because you have experimented with your child and observed them playing games does not mean you are an expert guru who is able to teach of your ways. If you want to truly be and expert i emplore you to create your own “call of duty” account (yes mums, call of duty is where its at and your boy will get into it no matter what age he is, dont pull against it) once you have made this account, play the game. Play it through and play online, get good at it, feel its competitive nature. Then and only then will I not be skeptical of your flawed attempts at understanding your childs immersion into the world of online games.

    There are no pedophiles, stalkers, child molesters and other bad people in MMORPGS and online shooters etc. so dont even think that that is a risk to your child. Alot of you parents perceive the fact that “my child will be able to talk to strangers if he plays this game” as that your child definitely will, so let me stop you right there and say “YOUR WRONG”. while playing games that are incredibly social eg. World of Warcraft, all the conversation and communication will be about the game, events in the game, current gameplay situations etc.

    This is the most important one for all you parents…IF YOU PULL THE PLUG OUT, YOU ARE ESSENTIALLY JUST ASKING TO BE SHOUTED AT. Your kid is mid game and whether hes winning or losing he wants to finish the match and earn XP. 1-2 hours wont be enough because you must realise that computer games are just like real outdoor games. YOU HAVE TO imagine that if your child was able to play basketball or soccer (or whatever his favourite sport was) all day with different people all the time, whilst at the same time earning eXPeriance (XP) at that sport and getting better at it…He would do that all day every day 24/7. Online games are no different. all thats missing is the physical exercise. so instead of restricting their hours…tell them that if they want to play call of duty all day then they have to do jog or a run or some other form of exercise for 1/2 an hour for every 3 hours they want to play games for. this way your kid is getting lots of exercise and hes also playing what he wants for how long he wants to.

    This guide suggested that you should invite your child’s friends over to play games with them instead of them playing with strangers…THIS IS 100% STUPID. Games are a solo hobby, if they wernt then computers would have 2 screens. All time that your child can spent with his friends should be spent out hitting the town and socialising. The weekends should be spent with mates going to see the movies or going shopping (or something) not playing games with mates and then more games when their gone. thats how you end up with a obese child like you associate with hardcore gaming nerds.

    If you really want a real guide to Online gaming for your child then email me at [email protected] and ill send you a personalised guide with any questions included 🙂 thx

  7. im a kid myself and I would have to disagree pedophiles are playing videogames for kids but tell your kids to report them or ignore them also I think it’s a bit lame when u set a limit and then keep reducing that limit cause your child is playing the maximum amount of time that just leads to them breaking rules


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