What age should my kid start playing online? It’s not an easy question for any parent. And like every kid, that decision will be different for each of them. For my eldest the time happens to be now. But what makes this the right time for him? How do I know that my kid is ready for online gaming?
My eldest is soon to turn 14. I have not allowed online gaming before this age for several reasons. The main concerns were:
- Online Predators
- Toxic Gaming Culture
- Game Age Minimum
- My Kid’s Individual Maturity level
So what made me feel my eldest was now ready for online gaming? I felt we had had enough talking lessons about all the above topics, and had met the requirements set by the games themselves. My job as his mom is to make sure he is ready to go when the time comes for him to set out on his own. He needs time to have practical lessons while I can still watch over him and guide him when he meets inevitable challenges and struggles. And the only way to get those practical lessons is to start playing games online.
Let’s take a look at how we met the requirements of each of those concerns.
To handle online predators we took a two pronged attack. One was no online gaming. If a game had an online mode, no online play would be allowed. Break the rule and the game goes away. The only exceptions to that rule were games that were meant to be played online and had no communication between players, like Splatoon. This really was the easy part, and the most effective way to keep my boys safe.
Included in the no online gaming rule, was not friending anyone they did not know personally. Which means they could ask me if they could friend their best friend next door on their 3DS so they could play together, but they could not become friends with RandomGuy5 who showed up in their Spot Pass notifications.
The second prong was to educate the boys about online predators early and often so that when they did start playing online they were informed what to be aware of and how to handle things when they happen. I’m a very practical person so there was no messing with euphemisms or sparing my boys from the realities of life. Just calm, age-appropriate facts on the realities of predatory behavior. Both of my boys (all three if you include my husband) are Scouts. They received lessons about predators through Scouting, which for them started in first grade. But I included a lot on my own. I told the kids that I trust them, but I do not trust anonymous people online.
As they grew older the topic got more in depth, but the important thing was to have these conversations so they would be informed and feel comfortable coming to me if there was a problem.
Toxic Gaming Culture
Gaming culture varies a lot depending on the type of game you play. Any competitive game like Overwatch is going to have more toxicity than a co-operative game like Monster Hunter World. That said, you will find rude people in all walks of life and in all kinds of games. Knowing that this is how things are, I prepared my kids to be faced with this inevitable toxicity. We went over strategies on how to remove yourself at the appropriate time from a party that has turned sour, what to do if someone harasses you, how to block, and when to report. It would be unfair to send my kids into the online gaming world without first telling them how badly people can behave and what ways the gaming community deals with situations that go South.
I also made sure that while my boys were aware of how to deal with toxic gaming culture, that they were not contributing to it either. It’s important that they know how to behave like a decent human being in games as well as in life.
Video Game Age Minimums
Most of the more appealing online games actually have age minimums. As a parent it’s nice sometimes not being the one making the rules, but rather the one enforcing somone else’s rules. It gets our head out of the game and allows for a cooler temperament. Which is great when you have a child who constantly pushes their boundries. For us, following age minimums for online games was easy to enforce.
That said, I have heard way too many people complaining about hearing “squeakers” in lobbies or how they had to play with kids. Sometimes people are not welcoming of the newer players. So even if your kid meets the age restriction for a game, they might face extra scrutiny because of their age. I made sure to let my eldest know that he may hear some of those comments. He doesn’t have to respond. If you’re there to play the game, then age or gender or race will not matter. Don’t respond to the toxicity, rest assured in your right to be able to play the game, be open to learning, and most importantly have fun.
My Kid’s Individual Maturity Level
One of the harder assessments, when you are determining if your kid is ready for online gaming will be figuring out if they can handle it. And by “it” I mean: Can they play games as a valuable teammate? Can they react appropriately to toxic situations? Are they emotionally ready to lose to other humans? Can they participate in a game on level with adults?
You know your kid best. Be honest in your assessment of their maturity level. Thrusting them into the online gaming world before they are mentally and emotionally ready will only set them up for failure. If you are unsure how they will do in an online video game, try this test. Ask an adult to play a board game with your kid. Like Uncle Joe who always plays to win and doesn’t go easy on your kid. You need someone who won’t make allowances for them being a kid. Does your kid play well, stay emotionally cool, and accept winning or losing gracefully? Then I’d say you just witnessed how they will behave online, where it is tempting to act like a jerk just because no one knows you. If they handle the test well, then they are likely ready to play online.
Once you feel that your kid is prepared to go online, it’s time to find the right game. You might find your kid is a good fit to start on a game like Overwatch, which is a team-based first-person shooter. Or your kid might want to play an online role-playing game like Guild Wars.
For my kid it was an easy question to answer. His favorite game series had just come out with a new game, Monster Hunter World. We had never allowed him to play in the online portion of the Monster Hunter games before. He did have a lot of practice teaming up with friends and family locally. This was the perfect next step for him. Bonus points for the fact that it is a co-operative game. Instead of competing against each other, your team works together to bring down monsters. Not only does that bring down the incidents of toxicity, but it also means that people usually will show their best natures. With game picked and our eldest prepared, we are taking the next step and sending him out into the world of online gaming.
Guide to Raising Responsible Gamers
As our eldest goes online, I’ll be sharing with you the lessons I gave him about online gaming. At times these lessons will be from something that happened to him online. You can find these lessons linked under the Parent Page for the Guide to Raising Responsible Gamers series. I hope you find our journey into online gaming helpful for your own family.
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