What Should I Look for When Choosing a PC Game for Kids?

A game must be good for your child to enjoy and learn from it. Here are some pointers to help you make the right choices.

Think amusement first. Remember that at this age, effective learning is often indistinguishable from unadulterated fun. Kids are focused on having a good time, not on meeting adults’ educational expectations.

Do your homework. Before you buy software, download an app, or launch an online game, make sure it’s age-appropriate. Check websites such as Common Sense Media to read reviews and ratings by other users.

Choose games that allow more than one person to play at a time and reward interaction. Some of the best games for this age group are those you and your child can enjoy together.

Look for games that let kids “accidentally succeed.” In other words, the computer doesn’t demand a precise response to move the game along, but provides instant feedback to keep a child engaged.

What you don’t want is long stretches of uninterrupted animation. Choose games that are easy for kids to control and continue to be challenging as a child becomes more adept.

Restrict online access. Letting children go online risks exposing them to inappropriate content and contact with strangers. Before handing over your smartphone or tablet to your child, take steps to block or limit online access. If your child is playing games online, stay close by and supervise her activity.

Besides supervising your child online, you also may want to filter or block certain material. Options include setting parental controls to filter specific sites, using software to manage or block content, and using software that secures a ‘safe zone’ for kids.

Be wary of in-app purchases. Even free apps can cost you a fortune if your child starts making in-app purchases accidentally. Change the settings on your mobile device to require a password or even block in-app purchases completely.

Don’t assume that a licensed software program is as good as the book, TV, or movie version. Buckleitner warns that dozens of companies create programs using the same licensed characters and the quality can vary significantly.

If you own a color printer, take precautions before your child prints a costly pile of full-color web pages. Set your printer’s default setting to black-and-white, remove blank paper from the tray, or simply turn the printer off.

Check whether you can return the software — if not for a full refund, then at least for a store credit. You may fire up the computer only to realize that you don’t have the right high-speed graphics card, or that it’s a poor fit for your child. Apps may be nonrefundable.

Avoid impulse buys and check the release date. If a game or program is more than two years old, it may be light years behind rapid advances in technology.