Written by: Alison Todd
Whether we like it or not, computer games are a part of most children’s growing up. As a busy working parent, this is something that is almost impossible to fight. Therefore the only way to deal with the issue is to monitor, as closely as possible, the types of games your child is playing. In other words, if you can’t beat the system, then better to try to work with it. An aspect of this rapidly growing market is that of console games for girls.
It’s not just boys playing computer games!
At the initial onset of the console boom, girls were given very little choice but to muck in with the boys, as most X Box and Playstation games were aimed at them. What was initially quite a teenage phenomenon soon caught the imagination of much younger children. I will never forget seeing my four year old niece pick up my prized new iPhone – a mysterious, baffling new gadget to me at that time – and start playing a game on it that I was unaware I even had, let alone knew how to play! My admiration for the beautiful mystery we call childhood grew even larger. The incident bore out an equally mind-blowing concept that was once thrown at me on a teacher training day: that we are preparing our children to do jobs and work with technologies that don’t even exist yet!
So, as a generation of parents, even the most techno-competent of us cannot possibly control exactly what goes on in our children’s cyberworlds. What we can do is talk to them. We don’t need to know precisely how to get from one level of a game to the next, we just need to know the gist of what is happening on that little 3D screen in the back of the car. Just like those movies that we really don’t want to bore ourselves watching in order to gauge suitability, it is far easier to check out the certification and ask the simple question ‘what’s it about?’
With younger children, it is safe to say that we are a bit more in control because it is our wallets getting sucked dry for these plastic micro-chipped tardises of entertainment. Yet we have to go largely on what the children themselves request unless we are prepared to invest a little time researching the myriad of options.
Your purchasing decisions could do worse than to start with an idea of what you want your daughter to get out of her gaming experience. There are games like Animal Crossing, numerous editions of Sims, The Daring Game for Girls and various Nancy Drew mysteries, which involve problem solving and the setting of up virtual worlds to mirror life.
There are even more educational games than these such as Th!nk Logic Brain Trainer or the Learn Series, which covers such subjects as Maths, Science and Geography in a package of fun as well as being tailored to your child’s age and ability.
Many games such as Pony Luv are simply harmless girly fun. In this game your daughter can own her own virtual pony – caring for it, training it, entering it in competitions, all for a fraction of the cost of the real thing. Other games like picture Perfect Hair Salon challenge your daughter to create and duplicate hairstyles – snipping in a virtual salon against the clock.
Some, like Hannah Montana may be perceived as promoting exactly the kind of empty celebrity culture that many of us abhor with her self-professed ‘Mathematically Challenged’ brain hardly encouraging our little misses to aspire high.
Family friendly option?
As with most aspects of parenting, a balance of hands on and hands off is a good recipe. The Nintendo Wii is probably the most family friendly when it comes to everyone joining in. My personal favourites for feel good factor and anti-sedentary entertainment are the sporty/dancing ones. Who doesn’t need to move their bodies and shake their booties more in this day and age? Not only can you get physical with a bit of Michael Jackson, it is also a brilliant way to ensure a good laugh – even if it is at your own expense. The Wii, in particular, has been shown in studies to help children with gross motor issues as it can improve coordination. It is also a wonderful way for children to tap into a bit of instant self-esteem when they realise they have plenty to teach us. I would highly recommend getting the grandparents roped in too – they are even funnier than us parents when trying to do the whammy bar on Guitar Heroes.
Interaction, it seems, is something that our girls prefer and in another study, boys’ ‘feel-good’ levels were unaffected by whether they were gaming alone or with parents, whilst girls benefited more from the satisfaction and bonding experience of gaming with their others. This is possibly the message we need to heed the most – children, particularly girls, thrive on contact with their parents and if we have to sneak in through the virtual back door with an enticing plastic square up our sleeves then so be it.