My eldest son just turned six, and for his birthday, he finally got the gift he’s been craving for months: his very own tablet. He’s seen my wife and I using our tablets, smartphones, and laptops his entire life, and he now feels fulfilled that he, too, is part of this club that offers independence and a connection to the outside world.
His tablet, however, has more parental controls on it than all the TVs and computers in known society. Hey, we have to protect him.
But the one thing he has virtually unfettered access to is Minecraft, the computer game that challenges players to create and sustain their own world, while encountering all sorts of potential crises and threats. In the past few years, the game has exploded in popularity with a recent article in The New York Times saying that there are more than 100 million registered users of Minecraft and it’s the third best-selling video game in history.
Like most parents of young children, I struggled with allowing my son to play video games. I know firsthand how addictive they can be, and as we strive to instill strong study habits in him, I did not want to undermine those efforts by enabling his video game interest. That would be wildly unproductive.
But the more I talked to other parents about the game and investigated Minecraft on my own, the more comfortable I felt that this was a unique situation. This is not like sitting on the couch and playing endless first-person shooter games or some version of a mindless app. Minecraft truly offers the opportunity to develop skills that I and most parents feel are worthwhile and important.
Here are a few:
1. It Fosters Independence
Implicit in Minecraft is the need to create your own world. Our son largely plays in Creative mode because we don’t feel he’s quite ready for the challenge of Survival mode. In Creative mode, he has to deal with elements in nature and build shelter using the tools available to him. He also has to seek out other minerals and items that can be of use to him. He has to do all of this on his own through trial and error and learn from his mistakes.
2. It Requires Problem Solving
If something that he chooses doesn’t work, he has to figure out a way to work around it. Does that sound like life to you? It does to me. Minecraft forces a player to think and reason while weighing sets of information. You rely on what you’ve done before and need to learn to take calculated risks. Again, it's a skill set that is particularly useful in this day and age.
3. It Enables Communication and Social Skills
Most of my son’s classmates and friends play Minecraft. In fact, he attended a Minecraft party the other day where the kids got on the same Wi-Fi and could play Minecraft in the same world together. He was thrilled. Minecraft is a computer game, but it brought these kids together for a social function.
4. It Introduces Them to Technology
Finally, our son just finished kindergarten. He is being taught computers and is using technology for educational purposes on a daily basis. By immersing himself in a game like Minecraft, we hope it will foster his love of technology and one day lead to an interest in potential career fields like IT or coding.
How to Keep it Fun and Safe
There are limits on his Minecraft usage. Here’s what we do:
5. You Can Set a Time Limit
On his tablet, there is a parental control for how long a child can use the device in a 24-hour time period. We set a strict limit on how long he can use the device before it shuts off. There is also a curfew on the device, so once it hits a pre-determined time, the device turns off.
6. Be Sure to Put Work First
Even in the summer, we still demand that our kids do schoolwork. It’s not a lot, but he has to accomplish that work before he can play Minecraft. He also has to finish up any chores before digging into the game.
7. Don't Let it Replace Family Time
Minecraft cannot take the place of family time. That is a hard and fast rule in our house. When we are spending time together as a family, the tablet gets put away and Minecraft takes a break.
8. It's a Negotiation Tool
We all know that parents need to make deals with their kids. It’s an unfortunate reality of parenting. With his interest in Minecraft, we’ve found an incentive that we use in those moments when we need to make sure he follows our demands