Computer/gaming advice for parents

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Following up on my last post about how to decide how much violence in videogames is okay for your kids, here’s a list of gaming/computer tips for parents that I’ve learned over the years.

My top ten computer/game parenting tips for geek dads:

  1. Try cooperative mode on any game that offers it. Best father-child bonding ever!
  2. Make up your own mind about what’s appropriate for your kids. I think Halo 2
    is fine (cartoonish violence and fictional settings), and Call of Duty
    3 is okay for my 9-year-old (accurate historical setting and a war-is-hell message) although not for the younger kids. But I think
    Gears of War, which is essentially a horror game, is too scary and full of bad language and adult themes, so they’re not playing that. Other parents will come to different conclusions. You know your children better than the ratings agencies do–decide for yourself.
  3. Give the kids old laptops and let them use the net, but keep those computers in public spaces (not in their rooms) and make sure the rules are clear.
  4. Those rules should include: time limits, no computers until homework is done, and full discussion about how some websites are "inappropriate" and they’re expected to avoid them.
  5. The easiest way to do that is to limit the sites they visit to the bookmarks that you set. You can’t stop them from typing URLs into
    Google, but you can at least make clear that this is a violation of the
    Rules.
  6. As far as I can tell, all NetNanny and other
    "safe-surfing" filters are crap. They block as much legitimate stuff as they let through, which creates a miserable tech-support headache for you when things that should work don’t.
  7. That said, set their Google preferences to "safe search"
  8. If they want to hang out with their friends online, encourage them to try kid-safe sites such as Club Penguin (shown).
    The clever strategies there to make it both fun and safe are impressive, up to encouraging kids to become "secret agents" to help police the site. My eight-year-old daughter just passed the test to get such a designation and she’s thrilled. My dismay that she’s turned into a narc is more than outweighed by my admiration of the site’s ability to get the community to keep itself clean.
  9. If the kids are into games, see if they might want to try their hand at making a game themselves. The educational tools today are awesome, and programs such as Games Factory 2 completely submerge the code layer, making quite sophisticated 2D games a matter of dragging and dropping objects, setting their properties and scripting events.
  10. Get Lego Mindstorms NXT.
    Permission to build and program cool toy robots is not the only reason to have children, but it’s up there. If only the kids were as into Lego robotics as I am. Soon, my precious, soon…

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