Today’s post comes from Oliver C. Sutton III, father of two young boys and a loyal GCP reader. Great to have a GCP Dad’s point of view!

Over the past several months there have been a number of posts here at GCP that I have found enlightening, entertaining and not quite useful to me yet. You see, I am the proud father of two young boys. The oldest is four (going on 14) and the youngest is one and one-half.

A reference in a recent GCP post about video games got me to thinking: Is it ok for young kids to play video games? I was born in the ‘70s. I was one of the lucky kids to have an Atari (Thanks Mom and Dad). I grew up watching cartoons Saturday mornings, then Kung-Fu movies, then, if it wasn’t nice enough to go outside, I booted up the Atari and went to work zapping Space Invaders, navigating a highway for Frogger or avoiding all sorts of Pitfalls. All these years later, you can often find me on the weekends in front of a screen with a controller in my hand.

There have been loads of articles about video games, their effects on people and more importantly, on kids. I played video games growing up; I turned out pretty well (although perhaps my wife might want to weigh in here). Some of you may be wondering why I still play video games. There are loads of reasons; I’m competitive, I’m a bit of a nerd, I’m still a kid at heart and it’s how I like to unwind and clear my mind. There’s nothing like pressing a few buttons and then watching some bad guys go up in smoke. I also enjoy the feeling of tossing a Hail Mary on 2nd down just because you have that option. But seriously, I just enjoy the mental down time some games provide. Some of the games have some pretty tough puzzles to solve and that can be fun too.

But back to the question: is it OK for kids to be playing video games? I say yes. This is not an overwhelming endorsement for kids playing any video game they want; I feel wholeheartedly that there should be limits on what they can play, when they can play and with whom they can play. Like Seinfeld’s ‘Soup Nazi’, I will control my children’s video game interaction with an iron fist.

Take my oldest. He’s at the age where he recognizes video games on any number of platforms, whether it’s a Smartphone, tablet, console or PC. If he sees you playing a game or even just using your phone, he’ll ease over to you, watch for about 15 seconds then ask if he can play ‘Angry Birds’. I do not approve of this particular type of game play, especially on my phone. I’ll let him play a Memory game on my phone, which he seems to enjoy. You see, if I allow my kid(s) to play video games at this age, they will be games with some sort of learning or problem solving component. I know what you are saying (if you know anything about popular video games): ‘But Angry Birds is a problem solving game.” And you are right, but it’s a bit too much for my 4-year-old. He doesn’t get the challenge/reward part of it just yet.

Nor do I let my sons watch me play video games. My video games are not for them. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has a rating system for a reason and I intend to follow it as best I can. I will not let my kids watch me play a First Person Shooter (FPS) like Call of Duty (CoD) or Black Ops (BO). I will not let them watch me play an excessively violent video game like the God of War (GoW), Darksiders or the Dead Space series. They can watch me play racing games and of course they can watch me play Madden. Go Big Blue! Parents, if you aren’t up on the lingo, rest easy. In my next post I’ll try to keep you up to date on some of the popular jargon.

I do let my oldest use the LeapPad to play games. Usually when we are taking a long trip or I need 30 minutes or so to get something else done. ‘What’s a Leap Pad?” you may ask. Check it out here. It’s a great resource. You can download educational and interactive games, short video clips of some of your kids’ favorite characters and even take videos with it!

Video games are an intrinsic part of our society. Whether you play them or not, whether you let your kids play them or not, video games are here to stay and their role in society will likely continue to grow. For example, did you know that the pilot of your plane most likely learned to fly by playing flight simulators? Check out a flight simulator here. Did you know that some surgeons are training on simulators? See this video of surgery simulator here. And those guys that put the rover Curiosity on Mars, did you know they practiced with space training simulators? Check out their space training here. (Only one of these examples isn’t serious, I’ll let you figure out which one.)

I do believe video games have a place in our homes. They can be used to help get a child ready for school by working on basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills or even help develop problem solving skills. They can inspire your sons and daughters to dream about new and exciting worlds, which may spark their interest in the sciences.

GCP readers, what do you think? Are videos games something that we should embrace as a potential learning tool, or avoided? How do you monitor your child’s video play? If you play videos, do you let your children watch?