Since I last wrote about playing with preschoolers, I have been having an extremely rewarding time playing Itchee with The Spawn. The benefits to both of us are even greater than I originally wrote about. I find that my Itchee time is making me appreciate all of my WoW time even more. Nurturing my child while enjoying my limited playtime is a win-win situation.
It's particularly nice to have this indoor activity to do together with the nasty heatwave we are having in the real world. And that leads me to something I want to address before we get into the guide for playing with reading-age children:
These guides are for parents who have made the educated decision to include WoW as one of the indoor activities to participate in with their children.
In no way am I suggesting that playing WoW or any other video game is the only activity to do with your child. Nor am I recommending that children only play sedentary, indoor activities. Children require a variety of both active and quiet activities that include solo time as well as cooperative play. Just as the children pictured to the right are practicing important skills while quietly putting together a jigsaw puzzle, playing WoW with your child is just one of the many ways you can enrich both your lives while doing something you enjoy. I am also not recommending that you use video games (or television for that matter) as an electronic babysitter. Only you (or your designated caregiver) can properly parent your child and the benefits derived from guided play are very different from the results of children left to fend for themselves electronically or otherwise. Enough with the disclaimers, let's get to the guide.
Children who are able to read and understand most of the quest text and chat have very different developmental needs, are entertained differently and are susceptible to greater dangers than preschool age children. Sure, my 3 year old can read Mo Willems and Dr. Seuss, but the quests and chat are just gibberish with familiar words thrown in. My playtime with her is much more relaxing because of this. Children who can read (and feel) insults are more vulnerable.
I do not recommend solo play to start
Teenagers are a different story, but younger children of reading age are very innocent and as parents, we'd really like to keep them that way. Grouping with strangers, whispers and the abomination that is Trade and Barrens chat are things we are unable to disable within the functionality of WoW. Sure, we can temporarily turn off channels, but a curious child left to her own devices is not always going to follow your rules. (Pay no attention to Captain Obvious guffawing.) If you want to allow your child to play alone in an MMO environment, hook her up with a game like ToonTown, that has nothing but canned chat and very small allowances for griefing. ToonTown is a lot of fun, actually, and I highly recommend it for any young child with an ability to use a mouse and basic keyboard functions.
Use two accounts to play
If you have the resources for the entire family to play at the same time, that is, of course, the optimum situation. Two computers with separate accounts should be the minimum for playing with your child because she is going to want to control her own character and play alongside you. Hanging out in vanilla WoW is still pretty easy on the computing power, so a minimum spec system should be sufficient for at least the first 60 levels.
Keep your child's screen in view
Setup your play area so that you can easily see your child's screen while you are playing together. This way you can keep an eye out for rules infractions as well as interactions from strangers. Again, trust is nice and all, but you already know that your child likes to test boundaries. A watchful eye will keep your together time in WoW safer for her and more relaxing for you.
General Chat (except in the Barrens) is probably okay
Seeing people ask questions and get answers will make your child feel more comfortable about not knowing everything that is going on in Azeroth. And any stray colorful phrasings (I assume you'll keep the profanity filter on) and adult references are probably no worse than what she hears on TV or even the playground. You will of course be monitoring the situation and adjusting things accordingly. Otherwise, you may get questions like "Who is Chuck Norris and was he really with Mommy last night?"
Make appointments with your child
Dedicating the time to spend with your child makes the time spent gaming (or whatever) so much more valuable. If you are distracted by other duties, the phone or the TV, your child is not going to feel the same kind of care and attention that a dedicated hour spent only with her will provide.
Level your characters together
Create a character specifically to level with your child and don't play that character otherwise. Choose a different server, if you like, so that you are not bothered by guildies during your dedicated time with your child. I particularly recommend this if you normally play on a PvP server. Being corpse camped is a frustration that your child doesn't need to experience and will reduce the amount of time spent having productive fun.
Have your child lead
Reading the quests (with your help as necessary), determining where to go and what needs to be done is fantastic practice of mandatory life skills. Your child will learn to follow directions, read maps, develop strategies -- all while gaining the self esteem of leading your playsessions.
Teach her to be self sufficient in-game
This is a really big pet peeve of mine. Young children are dependent in real life on parents, teachers, etc. for almost everything and if left to their own devices in Azeroth, will believe that the players around them are there solely to help them, as well. Just today, I was playing Itchee with The Spawn and a Human Warlock started following us around, asking for help leveling. When I explained that I was busy playing with my three year old, he asked me if I could help him get some levels when I was done. This showed me that while he was very polite and articulate, he was also very young. I told him to ask his parents for help and he said "Okay." and finally left us alone. It is not other players' responsibility to entertain, guide or even be civil to your child. In Azeroth, we all look the same age and many players just assume laziness or noobishness rather than extreme youth. When you teach your child how to do the fundamental things like shopping, selling, getting around, etc. -- you are not only building her confidence and teaching her personal responsibility, you are also making your child a better player for others to be around. This, in turn, will make sure she will be treated better when you are not around. The translations to real life are obvious.
Parenting is hard! We have to keep all this important stuff in mind while our children don't even notice the effort or positive effects. While I believe strongly that we should be mindful about spending our together time nurturing our children and teaching them values, if you aren't having fun doing it, it won't be as valuable for either of you. So steer your child toward in-game activities that are fun for both of you while remaining tolerant of mistakes. It's all about fun.
In my personal opinion, the majority of bad things that are attributed to video games come from parents/caregivers who use games and television to babysit their children because they are too "busy" to vary their children's activities and interact with them properly. Older children and adults also suffer if they were never taught to balance their lives properly and schedule their time intelligently. If, as a conscientious parent, you choose not to expose your children to video games or television, that is your right and there are many parental experts to back you up. However, those of us who decide to use video games as one of the ways we interact with our children are making an informed decision, backed by research and our own experiences. I think that parents who include their children in their hobbies are both nurturing their children and spending their limited playtime wisely. I hope the above guide is helpful for those who feel the same way.