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How to Bond With Kids Over Video Games

Image Gallery: Parenting Technology doesn't have to be isolating. Gaming with your kid is a guaranteed good time! See more parenting pictures.
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Remember the days of playing games like Monopoly and Candyland with your folks? You'd all gather around and vie for Boardwalk and Park Place, or you'd race past Gumdrop Mountain.

While your little ones may enjoy an old-school board game now and then, most kids today would rather control pixilated characters than colored plastic gingerbread men and die-cast Scotty dogs. Don't worry, playing video games is actually a great way to bond with your kids. Video games are generally more interactive than board games and will undoubtedly hold your attention longer, especially if your kids are small (trust us, a game of Chutes and Ladders doesn't take nearly as long as you remember).

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Playing video games isn't as simple as spinning a wheel and moving "x" number of spaces. Even if you're a seasoned gamer, you've got a lot to learn before pressing start with your little players. You're going to have to find age-appropriate titles that you can all enjoy, and then you'll have to get in some good bonding time while playing them. But don't toss your controller at the impossibility of the task yet. Think of this article as your cheat code to infinite fun times with your children. We'll teach you how to find a title that's age-appropriate and in line with your family's interests, and we'll explain why it's OK to scale back your skills and let your kid win a round or two.

Did you know that you can tell if a game is suitable for your family just by glancing at the box? Find out how on the next page.

Bonding with your kids over video games isn't like enjoying a "Halo" deathmatch with your buddies. First of all, you'll only be playing family-friendly games together until they're old enough for headshots and stealth kills (which will be a while), but that doesn't mean you're going to be stuck playing cooperatively through the interactive equivalent of an episode of "Sesame Street." There are plenty of family-friendly games in virtually every genre, and finding them is as easy as checking the rating on the back of the box.

Yes, games are rated, but don't look for the G through R guidelines you're used to seeing on the back of DVD cases and at your local movie theater. Video games are rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a self-regulatory group that was established specifically to assign video game ratings and enforce advertising guidelines, so your youngest won't see an ad for "Halo" or "Call of Duty" while watching morning cartoons, for example. Ratings typically range from Early Childhood (EC) to Mature (M), and they're just as easy to understand as those given by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

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The ratings are:

  • Early Childhood (EC): suitable for ages 3 and older
  • Everyone (E): appropriate for anyone 6 or older
  • Everyone 10+ (E10+): ages 10 and older only
  • Teen (T): designed for those 13 and older
  • Mature (M): not suitable for anyone under 17

Once you've familiarized yourself with the ESRB's rating system, it's easy to find games that are suitable for your family. Ratings are placed prominently on the back of every game's box, so you can quickly find titles that meet everyone's interests and that are age-appropriate.

There's a huge variety of fun, family-friendly games available, so you're not just stuck with titles that include the word "Mario" in them (not that there's anything wrong with gaming's No. 1 plumber). Platformers, music-based games -- assuming you play and buy kid-friendly tracks -- and adventure titles are usually safe. Most sports and racing games are also rated E or E10+, so you can feel secure with the knowledge that the only thing inappropriate will be your language after your child scores the winning touchdown or wins a heated race.

Pick a game that will engage the whole family, no matter everyone's age.
Pick a game that will engage the whole family, no matter everyone's age.
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Now that you know how to find a game that's kid-safe, all you have to do is start bonding. Easy, right? Well, not so much. Choosing a game with a family-friendly rating doesn't mean you and your offspring are about to make lifelong memories.

Many kids' games are poorly constructed and filled with technical glitches, erratic frame rates, brain-dead artificial intelligence and cheap deaths. If you want to find a high-quality game that will encourage more bonding and fewer broken controllers, read reviews. There are literally thousands of Web sites and blogs dedicated to video game news and reviews, so it's easy to get an idea of the quality of a given game through a simple Internet search; if you prefer print, there are several magazines dedicated to the topic available at your local newsstand.

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Of course, even if you have the perfect game, you're still going to have to work (and play) hard to get in some quality bonding. As the adult, it's your job to make sure everyone has a good time. Now, that doesn't mean you can stop your eldest son from running his little sister off the virtual road, but you can try to limit your kids' frustrations. Your game of choice might allow multiple players to compete simultaneously, but if someone is aggravated or feeling left out, you can make everyone take turns. If your skills are significantly more polished than your children's, ease up and let them win a few games, and don't always beat them by a large margin when you're the victor (they'll be usurping your skills in a few years, we assure you).

It's also important to make sure everyone feels comfortable with the game and the controls, so if your 5-year-old can't manage a particular title that you've been playing with her older brother for years, choose a simpler game for the group, and save the big-boy game for special one-on-one time with your son.

Bonding is also all about communication, so it's important to talk to your kids while you play. Ask about school, friends, anything. You can even tell them something that's going on in your life that they might not know about. Anything you can all share will help you connect and will foster bonding, no matter what type of game you're playing.

Most importantly, relax and have fun. If any of you are too tired, stressed out or just not in the mood, don't force it. Bonding with your kids over video games can be a remarkably fun and interactive experience, so don't make it a chore. Even if everyone's having fun, know when to call it quits. Video games are great, but sometimes it's better to turn off the TV and go outside and toss a ball back and forth. Your virtual World Series can be saved, but that perfect afternoon weather cannot.

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Sources

  • Entertainment Software Rating Board. "Game Ratings & Descriptor Guide." 2010. (Jan 2, 2011).http://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp

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