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Parenting and video games: One dad's tips

Game developer (and dad) Matthew Ford offers advice on how to steer your children through the pleasures and perils of video games.

Matthew Ford has made games professionally for 12 years working on such projects as "Asheron's Call," "Citizen Zero" and "Mythica."

Like most game professionals, Ford takes the field seriously, believing games to be an art form with the potential to both entertain and inform.

He is also the parent of a 10-year-old son, with strong opinions about the gamings pleasures and perils. His advice for parents faced with game-mad children is posted below:

Let your child play games. There has been no proven harm. When you are tempted to ban games "just in case", try to remember when you were a kid and your parents were faced with rock-and-roll, or jazz, or comic books, or Western shootouts, or the like. Play is essential to the development of the mind, and games can make a positive contribution to your child's life.

Be skeptical about what you hear about the harmful or beneficial effects of game playing. Read the methodologies of the actual scientific studies before you believe them. Question the source and consider their motives. Respect the scientific method to discover the real effects, both positive and negative; don't just go on gut instinct or what everyone else is saying.

Set rules on what your kids should and should not play or watch. Assert yourself; it's your responsibility and kids do secretly want firm limits even if they complain. If you feel clueless, use the ESRB ratings -- Entertainment Software Ratings Board letter grades that appear on off the shelf video games -- and strictly adhere to the age limits in them. If you are able to understand game content and are willing to do a bit of research, use the "E-for-Everyone" rating as a blanket-okay, and judge each "T-for-Teen" or "M-for-Mature (over 17)" game on its own.



Watch your kids play games, and talk about them. You'll learn a lot about your kid by seeing how he or she plays games. You'll find great ways to talk about life, history, morals and story in ways that your kids can relate to strongly. And your kid will admire you for being cool enough to get games.

Use a timer method. Set time limits to how much time your child spends playing games.  Again, be firm and resolute. Games are not harmful, but sitting on your butt all day is harmful. So assert a balance, for their own good.

Do it all now. Get these habits ingrained in your kids before they are teenagers. Once they hit that magical age, it's too late; whether you like it or not their course is set and they will draw on the habits they have formed. If you don't let your kid start to play Teen games as soon as they are a teen, it will become forbidden fruit, they will probably do it anyway somehow, and you'll have lost a chance to influence their approach to games, their personal limits, and their bridge of communication with you.