One thing I’ve noticed among my fellow parents is that those who are gamers tend to have children who start gaming at an earlier age than their peers. I’ve also noted that parents who play MMOs specifically, tend to have a better understanding of the game and know how to keep their children safe in the online world. So while their children might start gaming at (for example) 6 years old, they are more likely to have a positive relationship with the game than another child whose parents are not well-versed in MMOs and who let the child play without precautions at (for example) 15 years old.
This is a general statement based on personal experiences, not meant to be an attack on any one type of parent. Of course I realize there are always exceptions to the rules. If you are not a gamer and your child plays an MMO then it is very likely that you’ve done your research into it before-hand. But if this is all new to you then perhaps I can offer up a few tips that might help.
First of all, if you’re not able to supervise your child’s gaming for whatever reason, then it is better to just not let them play. Children need supervision in their online interactions. Now I don’t mean that you should stand and stare over their shoulder every second while they play (besides being boring for you, I doubt they’d appreciate it either), but you should be involved.
If your child was a member of the boy scouts, you’d talk to the other parents in the troop, make sure it was a safe environment before letting him attend sleep-overs. MMOs are no different. You have to be willing to familiarize yourself with the game.
Beyond supervising, you’ll want to interact with your child regarding the game. Ask them questions, show a supportive interest. Gaming is a hobby like any other. Inquiring about their latest quest is no different from asking them how t-ball practice went or if they enjoyed the book they picked up at the library.
You also want to make sure you are all on the same page before your little gamer’s first log in. Talk with them so that they understand the rules, such as school and chores before gaming. Make sure they know not to hand out personal information (name, address, etc) online, and make sure they understand the consequences should they get caught trying to break these rules.
Keeping the computer in a main room of the house so that your children aren’t isolated in their rooms while they are online is generally a good idea regardless of if your child is a gamer or not.
If you allow your older children to log-in on their own then be sure to discuss with them the importance of safe-guarding their password.
And by all means, make sure their gamer ID is appropriate. Nothing that reveals their age or location. You may want to Google it just to make sure that it doesn’t have any meanings you are unaware of.
As with everything else in parenting and in life, use your common sense when getting your children started with MMOs.
Every game will have different settings and different safety options but here are some WoW specific tips:
– For very young children, encourage solo play. Simply exploring the vastness that is Azeroth, killing rats and practicing basic computer skills should be more than enough to happily entertain a 7 year old.
– For young children, turn off chat tabs completely. As they grow older, you may consider enabling them to chat with local players but still fencing off public chat.
– When you allow your children to start chatting with other players, be sure to enable the profanity filter as well as the chat log. Take time after their play session to read through the chat log to make sure that conversation is appropriate and healthy. If you are unsure what a term means, be sure to look it up.
– For older children who are ready for group play, encourage them to form a guild with people they know in real life, such as their classmates, cousins, or neighborhood friends. If real life associates are not available for online group play then be sure to screen the guild your child does end up joining. Note the way they speak to each other and make sure its a good fit for your child.
– Consider using controls to help regulate the amount of time spent playing the game and make sure that you understand any time consuming commitments (such as raiding) before you allow your child to agree to them.
Inadvertently, your child will at some point most likely be witness or victim to poor online interactions. Whether its a rude player, cyber bully, or someone looking for personal information, try to remember that your child can’t control the way other players behave. If you react calmly and help them to address the problem in the best way possible, then you not only are teaching them how to handle themselves online but you are also developing a trust with them, which ensures they will come to you for help rather than hide it if they ever find themselves in a situation where they are in over their head.
Beyond safety, you also want to teach your children to be well-mannered. They are building an online reputation, something that is far more complex than they can understand at their age. Joystiq has a great list of MMO manners that parents should be teaching children.
In my personal opinion, the best way to teach your children to mannerly gamers is to set a good example. Playing with your children is beneficial in other ways as well, it gives you a common interest to bond over and makes it easier for you to know what they’re experiencing online.
You might be wondering at this point with all the time and effort you must take just so your child can play a game, is it really worth it?
MMOs teach problem solving and strategy. For younger children, they improve computer skills. They are a great opportunity for learning how to network and build friendships for older children.
Of course you aren’t going to want your child to spend all their time glued to the computer screen, fortunately there are many ways that the WoW fun can continue unplugged!
There are WoW board games, WoW trading cards, WoW books, and if you’ve got an artist on your hands then they may appreciate World of Warcrafts, a blog dedicated to fan art of all forms.
If you decide that WoW isn’t for your child then do not despair, there are plenty of other options! Sites where you can find MMO game ideas for children include:
Best Games MMO
Free MMORPG List
This post has been part of The ABCs of Raising Well-Rounded Geeklings series.