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Safely Navigating the Online Gaming World with Your Elementary-Aged Child

Safely Navigating the Online Gaming World with Your Elementary-Aged Child

May 17, 2019

Doesn’t a game called Hello Neighbor sound like a spin-off from Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street?

In actuality, Hello Neighbor is a frightening, online game.

According to Common Sense Media,

“Parents need to know that Hello Neighbor is a downloadable survival horror game. After noticing your neighbor's comically colossal house, you are compelled to break inside and see what he's up to. From a first-person perspective, players sneak into the neighbor's home and solve puzzles to unlock hidden rooms and find objects. But there is the intent to create jump scares, or to startle players after lulling them into a false sense of security with prolonged periods of silence and no action as they sneak, before they suddenly realize they're being chased or cornered. This will likely be too intense or scary for younger players.”

Hello Neighbor has cartoony-looking graphics.  Here is an image of the neighbor:

Does he look like someone you want your young child to crawl through a window to find?

This game is rated, variously, for children aged 10-12.  It is rated for children this young, because it does not have contact violence or blood.  Really now... Aren’t children anxious enough about bad guys coming to take them or harm them?  Do we have to add a game to their lives where people sneak into houses to take things and get trapped?

There are hundreds of games for children that promote creativity, problem solving, and fun.  Why do children gravitate to games that are inappropriate?  One answer is children often do not know what is appropriate and what is not. A case in point is when I recently reprimanded students on the soccer field who were dancing a jig with their index finger and thumb extended across their foreheads.  That hand signal - a capital L that stands for “loser”- has been around forever. I thought everyone knew what the L on the forehead meant. However, from the incredulous look on the students’ faces, I could tell they did not understand they had done anything wrong.

One student said, “It’s a Fortnite (online game) dance.”

I responded, “It means loser.  That is not kind.”

Another student, trying to explain it to me, a seemingly clueless administrator, “But it’s a Fortnite dance. It’s what you do when you win.”

I then understood that these students believed that because this was an official dance on a real online game (you can look it up - Fortnite Take the L Dance), it was OK to imitate. Children this age have not yet developed the reasoning skills necessary to separate game behavior from real-life behavior. And this is why there are ratings on video games and movies.

While I am on the subject, I want to write about Fortnite.  There are opportunities for team building, creativity, and critical thinking - for people ages 13 AND UP.  Did you know that Fortnite has a Chat Feature that could expose younger players to offensive language or mature content from random strangers?  Here is the review from Common Sense Media.

“Parents need to know that while the original strategy-focused version of Fortnite (also known as Save the World) is a survival action game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, and Mac, it's the wildly popular last-player-standing** mode known as Fortnite: Battle Royale that's taken off and become a huge hit. (There's also a mobile version of the popular Battle Royale mode that lets portable players engage with and play against console and PC gamers.) Fortnite: Battle Royale (which now includes the personalized-adventure-creationCreative mode as well) pits up to 100 players against each other in solo, duo, or up to four-player squads to see who can survive the longest against each other in an ever-shrinking map. The game has a cartoonish style, and the violence, while persistent, isn't bloody or particularly gory, even though you're using melee weapons* and firearms* to eliminate opponents. The game does push players to make additional in-game purchases to acquire many cosmetic items, objects, and celebratory animations, though they're not required to play. While there isn't any profanity in the game dialogue, the game's online nature could expose younger players to iffy language from random strangers in voice or on-screen text chat.”

*The melee weapons and firearms referred to include guns, swords, grenades, and traps (electric, spikes, and poisonous gas).

**I find it frustrating that while you parents and we school staff are teaching the need to be kind and empathetic, our children/students are playing a game whose goal, after killing all others, is “last-player standing”.

Parents, do your homework. Are your children playing games that match your family values and teach the lessons you want them to learn?  Luckily, there are organizations that have done the research and made this quick and easy. I was able to find out information about Hello Neighbor in 5 minutes by checking out the following resources:

My first go-to site is always Common Sense Media https://www.commonsensemedia.org/.

Another is the Family Online Safety Institute https://www.fosi.org/good-digital-parenting/

For more suggestions on games that are appropriate for children of different ages, try  Parents’ Choice https://www.parentschoice.org/.  They are the ones that put stickers on board games that are good for kids.

I found an article for you to read, written by a parent in the UK.  Ellie Gibson is a parent who has struggled with this very issue. She gives suggestions for games that are appropriate for children, but mirror the style of games designed for teenagers and adults.  Children and Video Games: A Parent’s Guide (UK)


Also, I did some extra research and found a game that mirrors Hello Neighbor in sneakiness, but is great for children aged 4- 7.  It is called Leapfrog Disney-Pixar Monsters University.  It is available as an app for purchase. Here is a description:

“Kids can progress through 24 game levels of gameplay. To build problem-solving skills, kids create strategies to guide characters though mind-bending mazes, avoiding enemies to reach a strategic destination and advancing from level to level. LeapFrog Game Designer Reed says, “We included problem-solving pathways in the game, since they are the perfect basis for a game of tactics and discovery. Children love the feeling of sneaking around undetected. When they play a full level and the judges never even spot them, they feel sooo sneaky.”

The main takeaway is that downloading a game without doing some research is like letting your child open the front door without finding out who is there first.  It could be Big Bird, it could be Hello Neighbor, or it could be Skull Trooper.

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