When Should You Start Introducing Your Kids To Video Games?

As a gamer parent, I long for the day when I can play side-by-side with my beloved progeny. Overtly or not, I think most of us hope that our kids will turn out to be mini Pokémon trainers or enthusiastic Destiny squadmates. But what’s the best way to introduce children to games?

Sometimes, forcing something too early can have far-reaching consequences. Just ask my friend who tried showing his daughter Star Wars when she was only three years old. He ended up terrifying her so thoroughly that years later, she still won’t go near it. Sometimes, as parents, our enthusiasm to involve our kids in our passions can outweigh our better judgment. I definitely fell victim to this when I put Pokémon Let’s Go on the big TV in the presence of my two-year-old son: His annoyance that I was paying attention to something other than him was so great that he now firmly says “NO NO PIKACHU, MAMA” whenever he sees the Nintendo Switch.

Playing age-appropriate games in front of your kids might seem like the most obvious gentle introduction to video games, but there’s more to consider here. It’s a general principle that up until they are about age three, your toddler will see anything that takes your attention away from them as a Bad Thing. Video games do have a habit of commanding our attention, whether it’s Trials or Mario. Most kids are too little to be able to use a controller themselves at that age, so you’re dependent on their tolerance for watching you play. If you don’t want your wee ‘un to start associating video games with feeling ignored, it might be best to wait until they’re old enough to chat about what’s happening with you, and maybe even try playing themselves.

I think I’m going to wait another year or two before I start incorporating games I want to play into our family time, but I have recently started playing some simple Toca Boca games with my toddler on an iPad. They’re lovely, creative, Swedish digital toys built around ubiquitous small-person themes like trains, birthday parties and play kitchens, and I’ve been surprised and impressed by how quickly he’s picked up touch-screen control. After a couple of weeks, he already doesn’t need my help any more.

This is not my kid, but he also loves Toca Kitchen (Photo: Toca Boca)

Like a real-world toy, Toca Boca games allow for creative free-play. These games are so simple that they hold limited interest for me as an adult, but I find it super interesting to see how my child interacts with them. In Toca Kitchen, he enjoys trying to feed pureed lemons to a reluctant cat, and singing a little song about sausages when he fries them in a pan. Games that allow for open-ended rather than goal-oriented play are really well-suited to younger kids.

My friends who play games together with their older children — say, ages seven and up — all tell me that they started by letting their kids watch or experiment with what they were playing, and encouraging their interest when they showed it. Some of their sons and daughters were fascinated by games from the second they first saw them. Others didn’t develop much of an interest until a few years into school, when they started wanting to play Minecraft with their friends, at which point their parents used that as a springboard into the wider world of games.

It’s important to accept, however, that your kids just might not be that interested, or if they are interested, it might not be in the games you’d prefer. My teen stepson, though a very keen and impressively skilled player, has traditionally shown exactly zero interest in the games that I love. Bar an all-too-brief intersection over Minecraft when he was about six, our tastes remain almost entirely siloed. He loves horror and competitive first-person shooters, whereas I love… pretty much anything but. I now know how an ex-boyfriend’s rockstar father felt when his son turned out to be more interested in computers than Stratocasters. You never know, though. Your seven-year-old might discover that they love to sit and play co-op Spelunky with you, but no matter how careful and enthusiastic you are about introducing them to games, it’s always possible that it might not happen.

Of course I hope that my little kids will love the same kind of games that I did when I was younger, and that one day, I’ll be helping them get to grips with Pokémon types or Zelda secrets. It’s partly because, as a parent, I feel totally equipped to handle that, whereas if they develop an interest in football or gymnastics, I’ll have a pretty steep knowledge curve to scale before I can feel properly involved and supportive. Between now and then, I’m going to be mindful of playing on my kid’s level rather than my own, careful not to force it, and welcoming if and when he does start to show an interest.

How have you introduced games to your kids? How old were they when they started playing? Or are you the only player in your household of five?


Comments

    Early childhood and primary teacher here. Kids should not playing games, watch t.v ext for more then 1 hour a day. Can effect their development. Kids learn by moving, thinking and experimenting. This is limited when absorbed by t.v or video games.

      Eh, it's much more about balance IMO. I would have spent way more than 1 hour a day infront of a screen my entire life (first computer when I was three years old, first games console when I was five) but I also spent a lot of time outside, playing with lego, and reading. I'm a perfectly functional adult, don't think it affected my development at all.

      (Or maybe it did and I'm too dysfunctional to notice? I am a software engineer after all :P)

      You're a teacher, but made some claims without sources, and with terrible grammar.

      Score: D-
      See me after class!

        I'm an English teacher.

        A+ for the critique, but I'll need to see your marking sheet to make sure it aligns with the Australian Curriculum mate!

        See ME after you see HIM after class!

          It's an evidence based approach to clinically assessing academic nonsense. (1)

          1: Assessment of the internet netizen: new approaches in bullshit. Journal of Fuckery and Emergency Bullshit. 4(3). 2145.

            I'm sorry, the state just had our budget cut again, if you want to reference, you'll have to supply your own hand written ones...

      Kids learn by moving,
      Citation needed... Kids (people actually) get/stay healthy by moving but as far as learning, what is there to learn from movement alone once you're beyond the age of 2-3?
      thinkingand experimenting.
      Ah, so games don't require thought or experimentation I take it. I'll have to remember that next time my younger cousins come over and ask to play Disney Infinity, Minecraft, Mario Maker, etc (although now they're getting a bit older it'd probably be Fortnite or something but that's beside the point).

      As NegativeZero said, it's all about balance. Those cousins love playing games when they come here (and at home I'm sure) but they also live on a farm and spend a hell of a lot of time outside, generally causing trouble. It's not about limiting things, it's about encouraging a varied life.

      If you want another example I can use myself. My dad was in IT when I was a kid so I've been playing around on PCs as long as I can remember. We got our first console (SNES) whe I was five and I sure as shit spent more than an hour a day playing that. I also spent one day a week having swimming lessons and my weekends playing football/cricket - on top of all the time I just spent outside playing with friends, toys or just on the swings.

      I can't honestly say that I think my development was hurt in any way by playing games a lot as a kid. Realistically they helped as when I left high school, I had planned to enter the Air Force but was knocked back due to medical history, so I struggled to find a course I really enjoyed until I just said screw it and tried games development - thinking it'd at least be semi-enjoyable even if I didn't want to persue it as a career. A few years on there's nothing I'd rather do than games programming.

      TL;DR: I basically agree with the other two replies here, unless you have something to back up your claim it just seems like fearmongering. In reality a balanced life (not just a limited one) is the best way to be healthy and get an appreciation for a variety things, rather than just 1.

        You learn via movement in terms of kinaesthetic learning. Movement is a major part of cognitive development, it allows you to judge space and measurement along with visual perception.

        This is a huge reason why Prep used to be primarily 'play based learning', it was a huge deal, it allowed the stimulation of both the body *and* the mind at the same time “Blood flow in the brain supports cognitive development while teachers can observe the students’ development of gross motor skills. Research demonstrates the relationship between movement and cognitive ability” (Source 1).

        Your comparison to video games is a little misguided, as they're more reflexive oriented and require extremely little in the way of movement generally as such to the point it was almost considered a sedentary action in comparison to other reflexive actions used in learning i.e. Ball control and object manipulation. While videogames do call for skill, they don't call for the same *type* of skills and we mustn't fall into the old trap of 'I don't think it hurt me therefor it didn't hurt me', as unless we're absolutely aware of something and what it means, we shouldn't declare an absolute like that? (Source 2 btw)

        That's not to say gaming doesn't develop different areas of the brain, it does of course. But like anything, and like the OP was trying to say, there's definitely a point where a parent should try to strike a balance. For instance, Queensland Health themselves recommend a Toddler only be exposed to one single hour of screentime per day to limit reduction and impact on the following areas:

        * disrupted sleep patterns
        * behavioural problems
        * loss of social skills
        * reduced playtime.
        (Source 3 btw and Source 4)

        Anyhow I've spent way too long on this, yes I did let my son play WAY more than an hour each day when he was young, NO I don't think it'll cause the end of the world if they do, but yes I do think proper research is worth reading and considering :) Have a good one.

        Source 1: https://www.summitcds.org/communications/blog/1613209/toddlers-large-muscle-development-affects-cognition
        Source 2: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335515001096
        Source 3: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-alerts/news/screen-time-advice-parents-baby-child-infant-toddler-guideline-queensland-health
        Source 4: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/screen-time/art-20047952

      I can see what you're saying, but I think, as others have stated. it's more about balance rather than a strict '1 hour per day' ideology. On weekdays, my kids (ages 5-13) consume almost no media with some nights, including those where they have sports or swimming training being limited to literally 'school, homework and sports'. On the weekend, they would definitely consume a lot more than 1 hour of screen time a day.

      Most high schools will say no more than 2 hours 'screen time' per day and this includes phones, youtube and gaming. Sleep and activity other than gaming is probably more important than 'x amount of time playing games per day'.

      To answer the actual question, my kids didn't start playing games themselves until they were able to handle a controller without dropping it, so it's typically around 3-4 when they can understand and react to games. Obviously I think also parents should be aware of what their kids are playing as well as how much they are playing or when they start playing.

      You're a primary teacher but have the grammatical ability of a toddler?

      I call bullshit.

        I legitimately am an English teacher myself, working in the secondary environment. I hate to break it to you, but this level of grammatical ability is more common than you would believe with teachers. I kid you not.

          I know.

          I once had a history/ Humanities teacher (don't know what they call it now) who was at the time teaching us WW2 history who didn't know what the Schutzstaffel is.

            I wouldn't crucify a humanities teacher for not knowing about a paramilitary organisation, I'd be more concerned about them knowing how to teach curriculum effectively, how to convey knowledge effectively, teach students to question logically and to push the idea of questioning everything. The main point here is grammar, which is extremely important though, which is absolutely necessary, as too many rely on 'autocorrect', and that itself is having a major impact on our society in a negative manner.

    Gaming has encouraged my kid to learn reading before primary school. She's now in advanced classes in grade one. We do family fortnite on fridays playing online with cousins and such. Heaps of fun. Plus if they misbehave you can take it away. Just keep control good parenting and your set

    Allow them limited time but for God's sake don't allow then to play online. Don't allow any online play until they are at least a teenager.

    Kids are some of the worst people on online games.

      I agree with this 100%.

        The problem is most of these kids are used to playing with their friends while their parents are around so they get it into their heads everyone has to do what they want.

        But when they go online and find out no one gives a shit what they want they chuck a sook.

    My kids, 3 and 4, love watching their mum play Pokemon Lets Go. Plus they play Mario Kart 8, with all the assists on, Smash Bros and Pokken DX.

    I'm a little drunk right now having sitting outside a friend's engagement party because I can't stand being around a bunch of former friends.

    As someone that grew up gaming I know my experience is going to be drastically different than a child's now.

    For one, when I was 8 and playing on a Snes there was no internet. All other changes aside the internet is by far the most significant and introduces a complication to that some of us may have experienced only in part.

    The internet changed gaming for me, particularly with the original Team Fortress. I had enjoyed DM Quake World to that point but it was TF that really drew me in. The draw to online gaming only became more attractive with Quake 2, particularly with the Action Quake, Rocket Arena and Gloom mods.

    I would go to my dad's place on the weekend and would game my heart out for the whole time. I loved it. Around this time we got BigPond Cable and although being restricted to WirePlay (which later became Telstra's Game Arena) the change from dial up to broadband only made it better. To feed such habits I definitely skipped on homework.

    Fast forward to today I see how my parents, were ill equipped to deal with my draw to gaming, particularly online. I know for my father, it was a way we could partake in something together. Even offline, he would watch me play for example Final Fantasy 6, Lufia and a number of other Snes jrpgs (also PlayStation 1 things) and in some respects I think that aided my mental development however it was not without cost. My homework ethic was abysmal - read virtually non existent.

    Skipping a bunch of bullshit I think today parents have a harder task - but a joint gaming experience is not something to be avoided.

    My advice is to not to be afraid of having your kids game, relish in the experience, however make sure you have control over it and that it doesn't impede on your kids' development elsewhere. It is easy to fall into the trap where it's enjoyable at the expense of parental discipline.

      I agree with the idea that parents need to be engaged with their kids when it comes to games (and other online entertainment). I hate the mom's and Dad's that don't know what minecraft and fortnight is, won't spend 2 minutes on google to look it up, let their children play it unrestricted/unsupervised, and complain about it being bad.
      Parenting doesn't stop at the screen, play/watch/surf with your kids, show them how to react without tantrums, and be a part of their lives in all aspects. Who knows you might enjoy it too.

    Just as the baby first enters the world you should be waiting on the other end with a fully charged gameboy switched on and sitting on the pokemon blue menu screen. Your arms should be extended, not to cuddle the baby but to carefully place the gameboy in babys hands so he/she can have their very first gaming experience.

    Last edited 03/03/19 1:45 pm

    I showed Castle Crashers to my son when he was about 5. Never got my Xbox back after that. He used to play the PC flash games before that.

    Taking into account all the opinions and facts presented in this thread, I must mention that although "in development", kids are still are human, i.e. each case is different and must be assessed as such. Keep an eye out for the results rather than adhering strictly to guidelines. What is good or not so good for a kid may be entirely different for other kids due to the diversity of physical, mental and emotional needs.

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