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Online video games help kids socialize

Although my kids have full reign over our backyard kingdom, they still lament feeling imprisoned by COVID-19. They want to go places and do things with other people, preferably with friends, not their parents or siblings.

I can’t blame them. I’m always on the lookout for an escape, even if my getaway is the occasional trip to Walmart. Zoom meetings at least give me a chance to interact with other humans face-to-face.

Most “adults” have the luxury of accessing technology that allows for a little socialization with a lot of social distancing.

My older kids have “some” of this. Ella, 14, and Katie, 12, are at smartphone age. They’re responsible with their smartphones, they rarely lose them, and, with the exception of a few screen protector replacements, their phones never break beyond simple repairs.

My two youngest kids are not at smartphone-age even if they insist they’re smartphone-ready. In her defense, I feel pretty confident that Sadie, 10, could handle a smartphone, or “phon-ership” as we call it. Like her older sisters, she seems slightly more mature and responsible than most kids her age.

But in our home, the magical age is 11, and my wife and I are sticking to it regardless of the pressure we feel during the pandemic to alleviate some tech rules.

Ozzie is 7, and well, have you heard stories about 7-year-olds with smartphones? If you have, they’re usually not good. It’s not that he doesn’t know how to navigate a smartphone, it’s just that he can’t find his Amazon Kindle most days and it’s three times the size of my Google Pixel smartphone.

So in lieu of using only smartphones to connect with others, we’ve turned to video games as another avenue for socializing with others during the pandemic, even if some of those “others” are complete strangers.

Roblox is a good example of a platform we endorse for kids to use for play and socialization. As parents, we’re able to see what games they’re playing and with whom they’re interacting. When time permits, we join along with them in the fun.

Aside from customizable parent controls that limit online chat and restrict access to age-appropriate games, there are filters to ensure avatars look “appropriate.” There’s also a system for reporting inappropriate chat messages, most of which are pre-filtered depending on age restrictions (e.g., bad words are blocked for the games our kids play). Players can also report inappropriate content by using the “Report Abuse” system located in each Roblox game.

You can download the Roblox platform online at www.roblox.com or on your favorite app store.

Another game that we’ve loved during the pandemic is “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” (aka, ACNH) available for the Nintendo Switch game console. Of course, the Animal Crossing franchise has been around for a while, but the timing of the launch of ACNH couldn’t have been more perfect.

Deep in the early weeks of the pandemic, after reading online chatter about creating virtual “islands,” we downloaded ACNH and dove in to create our own “family” island. Not only has it provided us something to build as a family, we’re able to connect with friends who are playing all over the world.

Common Sense Media selected ACNH as one of its top video-game picks for families. Learn more about the Animal Crossing series at www.animal-cros sing.com.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is a professor of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn .com.

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