Jul 11, 2022 - Technology

Video games for kids: A guide for parents looking to introduce children to gaming

Video game screenshot of two short humanoid characters with mushroom hates standing on curved platforms
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Screenshot: Nintendo

Following heaps of advice from Axios readers, my wife and I recently told our 5½-year-old twins that we had video games in the house — and that we could play them.

Why it matters: This was a big step. There's no clear guideline about when to introduce your kids to games, not even for someone like me who's reported about games for two decades.

  • Games are great, but in an age of screen-time concerns, when's the right moment?
  • There's no perfect answer. But my family is now in the throes of figuring it out.
  • For us, the second day went better than the first.

My thought process: I wanted to introduce games to my kids for all the reasons you want to share something you enjoy.

  • But I worried about adding another screen-based amusement to their lives, especially after COVID life ramped up their use of TVs and tablets.
  • I was concerned about time commitments, knowing how long games can go.
  • Plus, they’re twins. I wanted them to have an even experience, both learning without frustration about who progressed faster. I assumed I should avoid competitive games.

My prep: We picked a weekend date for the kids’ first gaming session.

  • I solicited feedback online about the best games to play on a docked Switch together and loaded them up. Top picks included Overcooked 2, Super Mario 3D World, Minecraft and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. (I was wary of Kart, since it’s racing and racing = competition.)
  • I envisioned establishing rules: gaming only allowed with me present, strict time limits to be enforced.

What happened: We started on Sunday with Mario 3D World, me as Mario, my kids as Luigi and Peach, then tried Kart.

  • Their delight quickly gave way to frustration over controls they were just learning and a preoccupation with how the other was doing.
  • On Monday, we tried again, this time taking turns with each kid paired with me.
  • Way better. They cheered for each other, and my son even scooched his chair up to the TV to helpfully point out things on screen for his sister.
  • We also discovered a surprise instant favorite: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, a puzzle game that lets me walk a character through puzzle rooms while my kid partner rotates the camera and searches for an in-game sticker he or she can zap for a reward.

What's next: They can’t wait to play again, of course.

  • I feel surprisingly good about it.
  • Even better: They said they’d give up their normal post-school iPad time (see: bad habits introduced by COVID-19) to play games instead.

Bonus advice from Axios Gaming readers, who shared their experiences about getting their kids into games:

  • Many readers first let their kids watch them play, instilling their curiosity as observers. Sometimes they just couldn’t hide the games. “She used to sneak behind me and catch me playing games in our living room for about one year until she hit 5,” one reader said of their daughter, who now gets 30 minutes to play every Saturday.
  • Ages 4-6 were the common starting points for putting kids behind the controls.
  • Most said they were always present when their kids played. Reader Patrick said it became a bonding moment, especially during COVID lockdowns, when he’d take an hour break from working at home to play with his children. “When the kids went back to school in the fall and I was working at home by myself, I realized just how much I missed that experience.”
  • Kind words of encouragement are key, since early gamers will struggle a lot: “Always praise them for never giving up and mastering the skills involved,” wrote Casey, whose three daughters are now all gamers.
  • It’s important to let them learn to overcome failure: “When he is stuck, I let him try and restart if he loses,” wrote reader Gaëtan of their son. “Surprisingly, he is not frustrated that much, he integrated that losing is part of the game. And then he tries again.”

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