Choosing the Best Gadgets and Games for your Developing Child

As with many things in life, one size does not fit all when it comes to how children should use video games and other digital media. Not only should you consider the age of your children when making decisions such as when you will allow them to have a Facebook account, but you should also consider their maturity and capacity to handle responsibility.

The digital revolution sparked through easy Internet access has hastened the pace of what our children are exposed to, even faster than it was in the latter part of the twentieth century. Parents clearly have less control over the type of media to which their children are exposed than they had in the past. This is only going to become a larger problem as more and more pre-teens have smart phones with access to anything online.

It becomes incumbent upon parents to protect and/or teach their kids about appropriate digital media involvement. We encourage parents to take active steps to make their children’s experience with digital media a positive experience for growth and development rather than a source of confusion and exposure to information that is beyond their means to understand.

You can find recommendations for specific ages in our discussion of the play diet. Some general strategies that address age-related concerns are included here, including:

  • Don’t be in a hurry to use digital media for your children. The data strongly suggest that children under the age of 2 do not learn from screen media. With older preschoolers, make sure that most of their time with digital media is spent either directly with you or well supervised, and that screen time is not taking away from time spent playing outside and interacting with friends and family.
  • You are the best judge of what works for your children. While ESRB ratings or our LearningWorks for Kids recommended ages are very useful, parents are the best judges of what is appropriate for their children.
  • Play the games first. If you have the time or inclination, play the games before giving them to your children. This is particularly useful for younger children so that you can discuss what they are doing with games and digital media and help them get the most from them.
  • Consider your children’s maturity, rather than chronological ages, in the digital media they use. For example, there are some 11-year-olds for whom it may be appropriate to be on Facebook, (technically users are supposed to be 13) while there are many older teenagers who will have a harder time with the responsibilities and difficult social issues inherent in social media .
  • Remember your values. This is especially important when you are looking at ESRB ratings for games. For example, the presence of even a little blood in an otherwise innocuous game may result in a rating of M, while gratuitous violence and gender and racial stereotypes may result in a T rating for a game that you find to be unacceptable.
  • Join them, don’t fight them. The best way to know if a game or technology is appropriate for your children is to do it with them. For teens who want to be on Facebook, you might choose to give them permission, but only if you are a friend, so that you will automatically receive notification about what your children are posting.
  • Own the technology. One of the best ways to limit your children’s exposure to inappropriate digital media is for you or the family to be the owner of their devices, rather than them. For example, rather than children receiving Wii’s for Christmas, have the Wii be a present to your family. This strategy may be helpful even for older children when you pay for their cell phones and are very clear that inappropriate use of their cell phones will result in their loss.
  • Make technology public. Televisions, computers, and video-game consoles belong in public areas, at least until children are into their teens and have proven that they can be independent, responsible users of technology.

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