It happens every year at this time, but still it somehow manages to sneak up on us. Yes, it’s holiday shopping season again, and it’s time for an annual reminder of how to make smart choices for your kids.
If your child is among the one-out-of-two or your weebswire.com teen among the four-out-of-five kids playing online games today, we have a whole new set of guidelines for you this year-especially as game developers have introduced some new top draws.
Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360, a motion-controlled video game (much like Wii sans the controller), for example, is expected to be a top seller as is the new Sony PlayStation Move bundle. Industry watchers are also predicting strong sales for Halo: Reach (a game that’s best left to adults), Wii Party, Fallout: New Vegas, Rock Band 3 and a handful of others.
Online Gaming 2010, a research report from the NPD Group, indicates the average gamer spends eight hours a week in online game play, an increase of about 20 minutes per week over 2009. That’s a lot of time spent gaming-and a lot of opportunity for danger.
The danger comes in two varieties. The first is injury, primarily from repetitive motion. In fact, computer gaming systems come with warnings, advising players to be cognizant of eye strain and orthopedic injuries. To safeguard against those:
- Make sure your child takes at least a 15-minute break every hour.
- Attend to any complaints of sore joints or muscles after your children play. These can be early warning signs of developing repetitive injuries. Insist your child suspend play for a few days and then tighten limits on the amount of time they’re allow to spend.
- One more hazard to watch is seizures. They’re rare-only about one in 4,000 players has them-but if your child has ever had a seizure or loss of consciousness, be especially watchful.
If, despite your efforts, your child does sustain a significant injury, consult a lawyer about a potential tort claim. Some parents may resist, thinking the legal system may fail them or blaming themselves for giving the game or device to the child. But as we say every year, the threat of punishment can be a powerful deterrent to manufacturers inclined to take safety-compromising shortcuts.
Privacy and Overall Safety
The second form of danger focuses more on your child’s privacy, emotional well-being and stranger danger. These tips can help.
- Do your homework. While the games have rating systems-and it’s important to understand them-it’s even more important to go a step further and weigh whether they are appropriate for your child and your family values. A number of online parent websites give good feedback, many of which may share your values. Common Sense Media’s site is a good starting point. If you’re going to spend $50 on a game, you want to know what your child will be learning and doing with it.
- Establish the rules before your child plays. At a minimum, you’ll want to set time limits, but many families also develop rules about whom their kids may play with, stranger chat and especially sharing personal information (name, age, school, address, e-mail address, etc.). Some families have even developed contracts with their children that outline the rules and the consequences for violating them.
- Avoid voice chat. Some gaming systems have live chat capabilities. While programs are available to make your child’s voice sound older, they’re also available to make adults’ voices sound younger. Your best bet is to limit live chat to just the people your child and you know.
- Take full advantage of built-in guards and reporting systems. Most systems allow you to block and/or report players who use offensive language or engage in cyberbullying. You’ll want to know about those systems before your child plays.
- Monitor play. Just as you need to monitor to avoid physical injury, you need to monitor to avoid other dangers, too. This begins with keeping online gaming systems in open family areas of your home (not bedrooms). Watch to be sure your child is following the rules you established up front, taking appropriate breaks and playing games that conform to your values.
It takes extra time and effort to safeguard your child when it comes to online gaming. But doing so substantially increases the odds that the gaming experience will be a fun, positive one for your child. Remember, you are the final line of defense when it comes to your child’s well-being.