At a glance
Video games and apps can be both educational and fun.
When choosing a game or app, think about your child’s age, maturity, and needs.
Be mindful of screen time, especially for young kids.
Video games and apps are everywhere these days, and many kids love them. Some can be fun, educational tools. But others can be a waste of time or cause problems if not monitored.
Here’s what to consider when choosing video games or apps for your child.
The purpose of the game or app
Why is your child playing the game or using the app? There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question. Just keep in mind that games and apps that help with learning or schoolwork are different from “just for fun” games.
There are lots of educational games and apps — for instance, apps to help kids get organized. Or apps that teach kids self-control. In general, there’s no harm in considering apps like these to see what helps your child.
On the other hand, there are many more apps and video games that are just for entertainment.
Two big ones are Pokémon Go and Fortnite. While popular games like Fortnite may help kids learn some skills, they’re not focused on education. It’s important to think carefully before you allow your child to play them. The same is true before you buy a gaming system like Xbox or Nintendo Switch.
The sweet spot is games that are both fun and help your child learn. People often cite Minecraft as an example. Kids love it, and it’s used in classrooms and schools to teach teamwork and other skills. You can look on YouTube for examples of Minecraft learning workshops.
Another example is games that teach keyboarding — for example, where kids learn to type the right keys to defeat space invaders.
Watch this video for an expert’s take on the pros and cons of video games.
Age and maturity
It’s important to choose video games and apps that are right for your child’s age. You wouldn’t want a 7-year-old playing a shooting game. And your 12-year-old might not be thrilled if you buy a game that has cute cartoons for preschoolers.
Common Sense Media has game and app reviews with suggested ages. Use these reviews as a guide to figure out what’s right for your child. But keep in mind that kids aren’t always as mature as their age in years. Just because a child is 13 doesn’t mean teen content is appropriate.
Skill level matters, too. Kids who are behind in reading might prefer video games or apps with less text. Or they may need technology to help with reading. Knowing your child’s strengths and challenges can help you make smarter choices.
The skills your child needs to improve matter, too. It’s probably not a good idea to download a bunch of apps just because they’re “educational.” Think about your child’s learning needs before getting an app. Read advice on how to choose a learning app.
Even if a video game or app is educational, fun, and the right age level for your child, you still want to consider screen time. Some kids have trouble putting down devices. They may spend all day playing a game, and stop doing other things they enjoy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says kids under 2 year should avoid screens. The AAP also recommends at most an hour of high-quality screen time for 2- to 5-year-olds. For older kids, the amount of time isn’t as important as consistent rules and a healthy relationship with technology.
It goes back to the purpose of a game or app. You might be OK with your child spending four hours straight writing comics in an app, but not OK with the same time on a mindless shooting game.
Before you choose a video game or app, think about how much time your child will really spend on it. Will your child drop everything to play the game? Here are tips for limiting screen time.
How kids interact online
Another area to look out for is how kids interact online. Social media can be challenging for a lot of kids. Before you choose a social media app, no matter how innocent-looking, think about how your child will use it.
Multiplayer online video games can also be a trouble spot. Kids who struggle socially can have trouble with these games. Bullying and harassment may happen if you’re not involved.
If you’re not sure about the content of a game or app, check out the reviews on Common Sense Media. They’ll highlight these concerns, as well as others like privacy and ads targeted at kids.
Does your child have a cell phone? Try using a cell phone contract to get on the same page.
Think carefully before letting your child use social media apps or play online video games.
Understanding the purpose of a game or app can help you make informed decisions.
The sweet spot is games that are both fun and help your child learn.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.