If there's one thing concerned parents of young video gamers need to know, it's how important it is to acknowledge and support kids' love of games. Why an increasingly media-savvy culture continues to vilify gaming -- now a mainstream activity enjoyed on smartphones, tablets, and computers by Americans of all ages -- is somewhat confounding. Video games represent nothing more (or less) than another type of entertainment media, right alongside books, movies, and television. Just as responsible parents keep an eye on the books, TV shows, and movies their kids are into, they should do the same with games. The bottom line: a reasonable, age-appropriate approach to the quantity and quality of the media kids enjoy.
As the parent of a young gamer, your strategy is to remain figuratively plugged in to whatever they're doing. Don't all parents want to support their kids' hobbies? We want to know what they're doing, who they're with, whether they're safe, whether they're taking away some sort of life skill as well as enjoying some good, old-fashioned fun ...
What you might not have considered is that gaming for many kids represents a full-fledged hobby. What's your role as a parent, then? To be fair, you'll want to give your child's fascination with gaming the same level of scrutiny and support as you would the your little girl's love affair with karate or your teenaged son's involvement in a garage band. Whatever captivates your child's imagination should also attract your parental periscope.
We're not suggesting you plunk down to dutifully monitor your child's every mouse click in a game like World of Warcraft. Frankly, your kids don't want or need a hall monitor. But they do need your boundaries, your guidance, your feedback, your enthusiasm, and your support -- all the same things you'd bring to their karate competitions or their band concerts.
A number of articles at our sister site Massively can give you the kind of concrete pointers that take the mystery out of poking into your kids' gaming world.
Play it safe There's more to internet safety for gamers than keeping an eye out for creeps. Have you thought about screening kids' screen and character names, showing them how to find and understand the game's code of conduct, or checking out their guilds (the online friends they're hanging out with on a regular basis)? Let's walk through specific internet safety strategies for gamers.
What games are suitable for your kids? There's more to judging whether a game is suitable for your kids than looking for the ESRB rating (like a movie rating) on the side of the box. We'll show you a whole variety of ways to suss out whether a game is appropriate for your family or not. (Don't feel obliged to try them all; pick and choose what helps guide your own decision.)
Try it already! If your child is a big fan of a particular game, it's probably a good idea to try it out yourself. We're not insisting you play regularly -- but don't you think sampling something your child plays regularly might be a wise move? If you're not a gaming fan yourself, we can show you several approaches to figuring out a parent-friendly way to dip a toe into the water. Give it a shot: play with your preschooler, play with your young child, and play with your teen.
Reinforce values Did you realize that (especially with a little guidance from you) gaming can help teach your kids values? Find out how that works.
Keep things in balance
Like anything else that's fun, kids can get sucked so deep into gaming that they lose perspective on how to keep all the balls in the air at once.
The 10-step back-to-school gaming tuneup Gaming vs. school -- how can kids keep it all in balance? Your goal is not to legislate from above but to help kids regulate from below.
Can a young child play an MMO? Is a game like World of Warcraft suitable for younger children? It can be, within a very specific set of limitations.
Is your teen ready for raiding?Is MMO raiding appropriate for your teen? Make sure your youngster has the bandwidth to support adding another focused activity to his schedule; from there, help him choose the right team with a solid coach and assistants, supportive teammates, and an age-appropriate challenge rating and social environment.
When enough is enough Ask these questions if you begin to suspect your young gamer may be spending too much time gaming and not enough time taking care of other interests and responsibilities.
Multiplayer manners There's no replacement for sitting down and reviewing the kind of behavior you expect from your kids online. These guidelines were developed specifically for players of multiplayer games.
For older teens
Older high schoolers and college students need to learn how to strike a balance between the very real demands of their schooling and other responsibilities and some well-deserved fun. The siren call of video games has cast many a student's best intentions on the rocks.
A note for our regular Drama Mamas readers: Does any of this stuff sound vaguely familiar? It is! We're updating and building on a number of topics from past installments to create an easy-to-use Drama Mamas Guide to Dodging Gaming Drama. Soon, we'll be able to offer a growing guide to all the questions you ask most. Hang tight while we lay the foundations ... We're sure you'll appreciate the results!Dodge the drama and become that player everyone wants in their group with advice from the Drama Mamas. Remember, your mama wouldn't want to see your name on any drama. Play nice ... and when in doubt, ask the Drama Mamas at firstname.lastname@example.org.