Video games pose a vexing problem for many parents. It’s tempting to try simply to banish them from the home, especially violent games. And yet video games are now a part of youth culture. Kids can still play them at a friend’s house or on a home computer, which today is necessary for homework.
Knowledge is a better solution than prohibition, suggest Harvard Medical School researchers Cheryl K. Olson, Lawrence Kutner, and Eugene V. Beresin. Based on an analysis of the most recent video-game research, plus their own study of more than 1,200 junior high school kids, they recommend the following guidelines to parents:
Know your child’s personality. If your child isn’t doing well in school or seems prone to distraction, say the researchers, it might be best if he or she doesn’t have a TV, game console, or computer in his or her bedroom. Parents should also carefully manage the media intake of kids who are prone to depression or aggression. Violent games can feed these tendencies.
Know the games. Parents should familiarize themselves with the games’ rating system, compare notes with other parents, watch kids play, and pick up a joystick now and then.
This will inform judgments about what’s best for your kids.
Know the technology. Joystick and PC games are couch-potato games, but recent hardware innovations like the Nintendo Wii require players to dance, jump, and punch in the air, keeping them physically active. In addition, many new kinds of consoles and PCs allow parents to block age-inappropriate games.
Make sure your kids know the rules. House rules on game content and play time must be spelled out—for example, that kids must finish their chores and homework first.
Parents should also set limits on what games they will buy or rent before entering a store with their kids.
Encourage critical thinking. Last but not least, parents should foster empathy in kids and talk to them about nonviolent solutions to problems. The researchers also suggest that parents encourage kids to ask questions about what they see or hear in the media.