These recommendations aim at assisting parents concerned with Internet apps and games by providing answer to frequently asked questions, general concerns and provide some references. We are happy to share an opinion And welcome your feedback. Ultimately, you, the parents, are the authority on what is good for your children.
Internet applications evolve very fast. It is important to stay current. Understand the intention of each application. Read the application documentation and the use cases, which might be different than the intention. We would do the same about food that our children are consuming in the context of food technology.
Social media: understand the intention of Facebook (gossip), side benefits and shortcomings. It is for 13 year-olds and older. You might know that kids have multiple accounts (can you guess why?), so friending them (to spy) on them doesn’t work. They might feel the same way about your participation in their online community as you might have felt about your parents following you when you went out to visit your friends as a child. By the way, it is incredibly easy to have a message read outside of the circle of friends, so be careful in what you post in your children’s walls (normally you worry about what they post, but I recommend that you worry about what you post as well). Being embarrassed socially online or offline can position a child as a target for bullying. Your children’s generation is online. They are developing a different and generally helpful set of skills to face the world that we have borrowed from them.
Games: Think of film genres and ratings… Games also have genres and ratings. “Watch” the game (you might be impressed and entertained) as if you were watching TV. Research games that your children play and understand the genre of particular games of interest. You can quickly become an expert in almost any subject with a web browser. Genres include: adventure, simulation (management simulation games are very useful, such as Lemonade Tycoon), role playing, sports, puzzles, racing (careful with many as they tend to be for adults -Mario Kart is generally ok for many reasons), combat, first-person shooters (violent), educational (mainly boring, so choose appropriately), platformers (such as Mario), social (mainly on Facebook -gameplay is poor as they are aimed at social interaction, not gameplay). Almost anything designed by Nintendo is well positioned to address your concerns. Games designed by Nintendo are not the same as games designed by others and published by Nintendo. Consoles are much more secured and will address many of your concerns than an open Internet enabled PC. Generally, the Microsoft XBox and Sony PlayStation consoles are for an older audience than the Nintendo consoles. A quick search online will help you choose the appropriate platform. Here are some games than some of the parents asked about:
PC: Minecraft, Civilization, Roller-coaster Tycoon, Lemonade Tycoon, Starcraft
PlayStation 3: Little Big Planet
XBox: Kinect Dance Central
Wii: Wii Music, Wii Sports
Nintendogs (from very little to adults)
Brain Age: this is a game that you might like to play yourself
Apple is quite good at selecting appropriate apps and games for children on Apple products. If you can, visit the Apple Store in the IFC, Children’s section and see what they have installed in the sample iPads. Read reviews in the Education section of iTunes; geography, science, art.
For 5-6 years old and younger: Toca Boca games, Dr Seuss games and applications, Gnart, Pop Out! Peter. In general, be careful with your credit card settings in iTunes! (in-game purchases in games such as the Smurfs).
King of Opera, Tofu, etc
All about money: Just like in film, television, fashion, consumer goods, and just about any product oriented industry, designers target specific demographic groups. Understand and appreciated the target audience when you choose games for your children. A quick search will likely return everything you would want to know. Games are products. There are various strategies that the industry uses to earn a living. It is not unlike banks, fashion, film, chain stores, restaurants, or any other business.
Violence: Just like with film and TV, and other products, some games are reflective of historic war situations (Call of Duty), gangster wars (Sleeping Dogs set in Hong Kong), street crime (Grand Theft Auto). Read reviews and ratings. Just like we would not let a 3 year-old, for example, watch Saving Private Ryan or Die Hard, avoid exposing your children to violent games as you would do in the case of film and TV and event violent printed media. Games are media.
Sexuality: Same recommendation as above. Just like we would not expose young children to some books (Fifty Shades of Gray), there are games to avoid. Investigate and make a decision. Let’s not blame the industry for our choices. Treat an explicit game the same way you would a TV channel such as PlayBoy or pornographic films. You need to know what is the content, context, and target audience for a game that you are considering.
Apps and Websites:
TED (iPhone), ted.com (Adora Svitak, Ken Robinson, Salman Khan, Sugata Mitra, Eric Witacre, David Perry, Kellee Santiago, Jane McGonigal, Aimee Mullins)
The Girl Effect, thegirleffect.org
The Athena Doctrine, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxgTsyL4y0E
ADHD Games (some parents asked me about this, so here is a link): http://www.tudou.com/listplay/0rv75Tmplpc/g8XB4oC9yew.html
Macs are generally more secured.
Log off websites, close browsers after use.
Back up and reinstall the system every few months.
Consider crashplan.com to back up your data in case you need to reinstall your machine.
Have an open dialog with your kids. It is necessary to learn more about their use of technology, such as software applications and information systems. Just like we would teach them to behave properly in a wine shop, video shop, or sports gun shop, we would need to get them to behave appropriately online. For example, let’s not blame the whole wine industry if an unsupervised uninstructed child opens a bottle of wine and drinks it. Technology will enable your children to succeed in the world. Playing is an integral part of understanding and applying technology.
It is better to embrace than to resist technology. The backlash that you feel about games in general, should be directed at a genre of games, namely, violent games. By the way, the movie The Avengers by Marvel Comics is (very) violent, and yet I haven’t heard from a parent who objects to this movie. A generation ago, many parents felt the same way some of you might feel about games today but about comics and certain magazines, let’s not forget MAD. The interactivity of a game is generally more useful and satisfying than the passivity of TV. We just need to encourage the right games and a positive attitude towards games technology because of its usefulness in a competitive world.