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Me, Mom, and Mario.

With all the media that saturates our lives, it may seem like video games are the last place to look for quality time with kids. Until the most recent generation of gaming systems, that was largely true. But, thanks to the revolutionary Nintendo Wii system and Kinnect, kid-friendly video games are quickly becoming family night staples. If you've been wondering whether a video game system is right for your family, consider the following.

Positive Effects of Video Games

There has been plenty of media attention to the downside of video and computer games. Many parents are worried that games are dangerous or, at the very least, not beneficial to their kids. However, as with any type of media, parental involvement can shape video game time into a learning experience. When children and parents spend time together playing video games, a lot of good things can happen.

Kids Who Play Video Games with Parents Often...

  • Show increased ability to work as a team with others
  • Feel more comfortable using technology, which is especially beneficial for girls
  • Improve skills in reading, math, and problem solving
  • Show an increase in hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills

The key to receiving benefits from video games is to make sure that parents and kids engage in them together. A parent who plays with a child or observes while a child plays can enhance the experience by seeking out and acting upon learning moments. For example, if a child becomes stuck on a certain level, a parent might encourage her to think creatively to find a solution or help her find a constructive way to vent her frustration.

What's more, there are also some benefits of family video gaming that may not be immediately apparent.

Kids Who Play Video Games with Others, Especially Family Members, Tend to:

  • Pursue related "offline" activities like sports, reading, and dancing
  • Engage more readily with their peers because video games provide common points of interest
  • Strengthen long-distance relationships with fathers in the military or others who aren't close at hand
  • Show an increase in self-confidence as they master skills required for a game

Of course, too much of anything can be harmful. Experts agree that family video game time should be limited to no more than 2 hours a day for young kids, and not much more than that for older kids and teens. Ideally, video games will be a social event where multiple members of the family can play at once. Responsible adults should set video game time limits for the house and be sure to enforce them. Video games only become dangerous to children when parents aren't in control of them. Be prepared to invest some serious time in playing video games with kids. The only way to ensure that a game your child plays doesn't contain objectionable content is to be involved in the gaming process.

How to Choose Family Friendly Video Games

As one of the country's fastest growing industries, video games have come a long way since the early days of Nintendo and Sega. Choosing a game can be both confusing and frustrating, especially if your kids want the latest popular titles that can cost well over $60. A family video game is an investment, and like any significant purchase, buying a game requires a little research.

Understand the Rating System

Like movies, video games use a rating system that helps parents to establish what is appropriate for their families. While many parents wouldn't dream of taking their 10 year old to a rated R movie, they may not think twice about allowing him to play a rated "M" video game which probably contains graphic violence, foul language, drug use, and sexual situations. Video games are an immersive media and can be especially influential over children. Be responsible and check out a game's rating and content descriptors (both of which will be printed on the packaging) before buying. For more information about game ratings, go to the ESRB's website.

Buy Age-Appropriate Games

It used to be that any game marketed to children was bound to be low-quality and usually dull for adults. However, the recent trend in family gaming has lead to the production of more high-quality titles that can be enjoyed by the entire family. Nintendo is especially good at creating family games. Parents can purchase any of their Mario titles for the Wii system and know that they are getting a high quality product they'll enjoy playing with their kids.

Be sure to choose games with difficulty levels appropriate for your kids. Games that are too difficult will only lead to frustration. The ESRB's rating system is a good guide for appropriate family games. For an age-by-age guide to the current most popular games, visit IGN.com's "What They Play Family Guide to Video Games." This is also a great resource for parents who want to know more about video games in general.

Ask for Help

Everyone knows a tech-savvy family. Ask friends for their personal game suggestions. Your kids' friends can also be a great resource. Ask them what games they like to play. Their answers can tell you a lot about what their parents allow as far as content. For those who just don't know where to start, here is a list of tried and true video games that will engage the whole family.

  • Mario Kart Wii, Nintendo Wii
  • Super Mario Galaxy 2, Nintendo Wii
  • Lego Star Wars, Nintendo Wii,  Sony PS3, Mircosoft XBOX
  • The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Nintendo DS
  • Animal Crossing: City Folk, Nintendo Wii
  • Toy Story 3, Nintendo Wii, Sony PS3, Mircosoft XBOX
  • Little Big Planet, Sony PS3
  • Wii Fit Pluse, Nintendo Wii
  • Pokemon (multiple titles), Nintendo DS
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