Should You Let Your Kids Play Video Games?

If you worry that video games are a bad influence, it may be time to reconsider: Video games can offer intellectual stimulation and developmental benefits for kids, says Cheryl Olson, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and coauthor of Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games. “Video games are a form of entertainment like books or DVDs—some are great for kids and others aren’t,” says Olson. “Age-appropriate games can help kids imagine different points of view, teach problem solving, and multiple-player games may even help boost social skills.”

So how can you tell which video games are okay for your kids? When your child requests a video game, follow these ideas:

* Read about it on a review site (like Common Sense Media), or rent the game to try out before buying, says Olson. “You want to look for plots that include thinking or solving problems—which could be anything from running a business to collaborating with fantasy characters to defeat a monster,” she explains.

* Check out a game’s content descriptors given by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a nonprofit that rates video games to help parents make informed choices: While “intense violence” or “sexual content” are obvious nonstarters for kids, Olson says “cartoon violence” or “fantasy violence” (like slaying a dragon) are probably okay for older gradeschoolers. “Strong language” or “strong lyrics” are other red flags that indicate a game’s content is probably too mature for kids.

Three video game options that safely engage your gamer’s thinking cap:

Yogi Bear: The Video Game for Nintendo DS and Wii, ages 6 and up ($30 for Nintendo DS and $40 for Wii)

Nat Geo Challenge! Wild Life for Wii and PS3, ages 10 and up ($30)

Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull for PC, ages 9 and up ($20)

Reprinted from KIWI Magazine