Should I get an iPad or Xbox for my son?
The question sounded innocuous enough, but I detected a deep concern in my friend’s voice when she called me.
An old friend since my early days as a journalist, we are the same age and our eldest children were born a year or two apart. Her question also surprised me – because my friend had no interest in video games.
And it was a strange question. Android or iPad? PlayStation or Xbox? Those would be typical. Comparing a tablet with a gaming console was clearly pitting apples against oranges.
As it turns out, she was worried about her son (he was probably six or seven then) turning into a social pariah as the other kids on the school bus shunned him for his lack of knowledge about video games. My friend was feeling guilty and wondering if her no-video-games policy was beginning to do more harm than good.
I cannot remember my response to her, but I had an epiphany that day – that video games had become mainstream culture and that as parents, we could no longer cut children off such games just because we were afraid of addiction.
Video-game addiction is very real and I know it only too well. I almost flunked out of law school at the National University of Singapore because I was busy trying to conquer Japan and China in Nobunaga’s games, Ambition and Romance Of The Three Kingdoms.
LET YOUR CHILD PLAY VIDEO GAMES?
Tell us how your family handles this issue (in not more than 300 words) and win a set of three annual Qustodio licences from Singtel. Five sets will be given out at the end of this series for selected entries, which may be published in The Sunday Times. Send your entries, with the subject header “Family & Tech”, to email@example.com
While my coursemates were figuring out legal theory, I was spending my waking hours mulling over national conquest. I even read all three tomes of the English adaptation of Romance Of The Three Kingdoms to figure out the best generals to recruit in the game.
I never stopped playing video games, but learnt to manage my priorities. My interest in video games drove me to learn about computer hardware and I eventually switched careers from law to tech journalism.
After leaving The Straits Times three years ago, I started my own public relations practice and I am still dealing with tech companies.
I grew up at a time when video gamers were viewed as weird, underachieving guys hiding in basements, throwing their real lives away for virtual gratification. That is history.
Singtel Surf School promotes cyber fun, safety and education.
As part of this initiative, Singtel is offering a parental-control app, Qustodio, at an exclusive rate of $5.90 a month for use on five devices (with no contract). Enjoy three months free with no contract with Singtel for a limited time.
Here are some of the features of Qustodio:
• Connects multiple devices and accounts to a unified Web dashboard for easy parental monitoring•
• Works on PC, Mac, iOS and Android•
• Web filtering automatically blocks inappropriate content from your child•
• Safe Search hides inappropriate results when the child makes keyword searches in Google and YouTube•
• You can schedule the hours and days when the child can have access to the Internet on the phone and/or the PC•
• You can block specific apps from running if you feel the child is spending too much time on them•
• Location tracking lets you find the last location of your child's phone•
• Panic mode lets the child hit an SOS button which triggers an alert that is sent to your preset e-mail or phone number, with the last known location of the device.
For more details, go to www.singtel.com/surfschool
Video gaming is estimated to be a US$100-billion (S$132-billion) global mainstream business today with more than 2.2 billion gamers worldwide, according to a report by market research firm Newzoo last year.
Another report by the United States-based Entertainment Software Association last year stated that the average age of a gamer is 35 and that there are more women (above 18 years old) playing games than there are boys (under 18) doing so.
The shift to mainstream culture has been catalysed by the rise of the humble smartphone. According to Newzoo, 43 per cent of the global gaming revenue comes from mobile devices, followed by consoles (29 per cent) and PCs (28 per cent).
This shift to mobile also makes it difficult to manage the game time of our children.
In the past, we could lock up the Gameboy or pull the plug on the Xbox. But now, the same device that our kids are using to call us are the game machines they are using.
Before, we could exercise control by limiting the purchase of video games. But today, the biggest revenue generators are free-to-play mobile games that cost nothing to download, as revenue is generated from in-app purchases.
I still believe that trust and education are the best ways to manage my children’s gaming habits.
It is no surprise that my three daughters – aged 16, 13 and seven – are huge video-game fans. We have slayed monsters together, taken night strolls to hunt for Pokemon, built Minecraft homes as a team and even watched one another beat the computer in single-player campaigns.
Video games are fantastic for parent-child bonding, but as a former video-game addict, I know it is important for parents to keep a close eye on their kids to ensure balance in the time spent on their studies, social life, exercise and video games.
If you want peace of mind, there are parental-control software that can help. One such tool is Qustodio – the Swiss-Army knife of parentalcontrol software that comes with Web filtering, app control, time scheduling, calls and SMS monitoring plus GPS location tracking in a single package. It even has a panic button which kids can hit on their smartphone to immediately send an SOS alert to their parents, with the latest GPS location of the mobile phone.
It works on both mobile and computers, across all platforms including iOS, Android, Windows and Mac.
Parents can create individual profiles for each child and link multiple devices to each profile.
You can prevent your child from accessing inappropriate online content through Web filtering and check who is calling and texting him to make sure unwelcome strangers or cyberbullies are not communicating with him. You can view a summary of his activities through a single browser-based dashboard.
The app control feature lets you prohibit your child from running games which you feel are inappropriate. You can also figure out how much time your child is spending on each game and limit play to certain hours and days of the week.
I was speaking to another friend last week who smashed his son’s phone in exasperation after the latter defied orders to limit his game time. The same friend has asked me if Android games automatically reinstall themselves the next day after they have been uninstalled. Obviously, the son was trying to pull a fast one.
Parental-control apps are not fool-proof and the tech-savvy, gaming- hungry child will probably find a workaround.
Building a relationship of trust is still the better option and apps such as Qustodio should be used as a tool to help the child achieve work-life balance, instead of being a draconian measure to stop him from enjoying what has become the main source of entertainment for many kids today.
As for my friend, we have not met in a while now, but I am sure her son has developed into a perfectly normal, socially active kid who plays his video games as hard as he studies for his examinations.