Your Kid Got Game? 5 Tips for Early Online Play


“Dr. Natasha, do you have WiFi?” The young boy’s voice came from behind me. He asked the question without lifting his eyes from the 3-inch screen.

His mother and I had been focusing our attention on his younger sister in my clinic. He was sitting quietly, patiently, while he was waiting for his sister’s appointment to be over. Entertained by the screen.

“That’s a silly question,” I said with dripping sarcasm. “Of course Dr. Natasha has WiFi! Why, friend?”

“It’s my turn.”

“Your turn for what?

“You know, my turn to hit the ball. On my game. He’s waiting.”

“Who’s waiting?”

“Some guy.”

His mother spun around, repeating loudly, “Some guy!

She continued, muttering, “Ugh! I just don’t get this gaming stuff at all. Honey, just play something else.”

His mom sighed and shrugged, returning her attention to her daughter on the exam table.

Kids are connected, engaged, and immersed in gaming experiences from a very early age. Today’s games are full immersion experiences of entertainment, including the ability to game from any Internet-capable device with people across the planet.

Awesome. Truly.

Connectivity, however, can come at a cost. We worry about our children’s online identities, victimization, and security. And although most parents know that there are online dangers, and that we should be active in protecting our children from these risks; I have seen too many parents that will sigh, shrug, or simply ignore what their children are doing online.

In my opinion, turning your back to your child’s digital play because you may not have interest or “just don’t get it,” is turning your back on a increasingly large part of your child’s life.

Here are a few first steps if your kids play games on an Internet-capable device:

  1. Try to understand the content and capabilities of the games your child plays. There are great resources, likeCommon Sense Media, whose only goal is to help parents determine the content quality of the game your child loves to play. Go through their iPhones, iPads, and gaming systems to see what games they have downloaded, and use your family’s filter of expectations to see if they pass the test.
  2. If your child “needs” WiFi to play any game, assume he is playing with someone else virtually. Although not always the case, it is likely a safe bet. For games with online play, be sure to disable in-app purchasing and chat room access if those are things you would prefer your child avoids. These can be disabled through generalsettings on your phone, or in the game itself. 
  3. If you have questions about the game, ask her! Kids love the opportunity to teach adults. Then, watch her play for a few moments to see what she is really doing. Investing a few minutes in this way could lead to some great revelations of what may be happening on your child’s device, and how she is connecting with others online. In addition, showing genuine interest in what she is doing may open the doors to new conversations. 
  4. Ask your pediatrician what he or she recommends for safer media and device play. It is as important to your child’s health and safety as asking about car seats or childproofing. 
  5. Need more time to understand and learn about online gaming? Turn off your child’s access to the Internet until you are ready. You, as an active parent, have the right to limit WiFi access. Really. It’s OK. The online gaming world will still be there when the connection returns, I promise. 

For the safety of our children, we must be active in learning how our children are interacting with others online. We must. By prioritizing our efforts, using good tools, and learning together; our whole family, including the gamers, will all have a great start.