“Mom, come look at the house I built!” My son called to me from the sofa in our den where he was curled up with our iPad, immersed in Minecraft.
I dutifully went to look over his shoulder, oohing and aahing at the floating house he had created—for me, he explained—with solid gold walls and Tiki torches on the walls. A pool of lava lay underneath the house, and he was in the process of building a second floating home for his sister.
Minecraft has become a recent addition to screen time in our house. We’re a little late to the Minecraft game, and that’s been deliberate. I am not a fan of video games; they are not a hobby I ever embraced so I don’t get excited about them for my kids. (I’m a book nerd, so I will always say “go read” when my kids ask for playtime ideas.)
Why did I decide to let my son play Minecraft? I had 3 considerations:
First, my son only recently asked to play Minecraft (before, he was content to focus on the games we have on our Wii, including Angry Birds and Star Wars). He played the game a few times at friends’ houses, and wanted the ability to do it on his own so he could improve and because he enjoyed playing. He even got Minecraft books from the library to study up on strategy and best practices. (The book nerd in me couldn’t find fault with that!) When he asked about the game, presenting me with a serious request, I decided to consider the pros and cons of Minecraft more closely. What I found was that, in the right circumstances (see the rules below), Minecraft can be a great way to express creativity and foster imagination.
Second, I did some research. I checked out sites like Commonsense Media for Minecraft reviews and tips, and I solicited feedback from friends who are parents and who are experienced with the game. It turns out that I have a lot of friends who play Minecraft themselves and embrace that their kids want to play it, too. One friend described the game as “virtual LEGOs,” while another said, “Wait until you see what he creates. It blows my mind sometimes.” Overall, all of the friends from whom I solicited feedback about Minecraft said that they were pleased with their child’s experience using the game, though they urged setting ground rules about time of play in advance.
Third, did you notice when I wrote “he played the game a few times at friends’ houses”? I never felt comfortable that he was playing Minecraft without family rules. I decided to allow the game at home so I could more closely supervise what my son was doing. This also gives me a platform to talk with him about digital citizenship, online safety, and the effects of technology on growing brains. Having these conversations with my son has been eye-opening for both of us, and I’ve been impressed with how well he has responded to making healthy video game choices.
Before my son was allowed to start playing Minecraft at home, we discussed and agreed upon his “rules of play.” They include:
- My son paid for the Minecraft app himself, and we installed it on our family iPad, which has parental controls. The version for iPad was $6.99, and he went into his piggy bank to find the money, paying me in (a lot of) coins.
- Minecraft, I have learned, has multiple versions. I’ve limited my son to creative mode, where he can build me as many houses as he wants and where he can fly, among other things. We are staying clear of the more advanced versions for the foreseeable future.
- He can only play on the app on our iPad; he does not have permission to go online to play. (This was another tip suggested by the parents from whom I solicited feedback.)
- He can play Minecraft as follows:
- There is no Minecraft on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays.
- Minecraft on Thursdays (which are half-days of school every week) is a maybe, and depends if he finishes his chores, completes his homework, and practices guitar.
- Minecraft on Fridays, Saturday, and Sundays is a yes (after he finishes his chores, completes his homework, and practices guitar).
- Minecraft equals screen time (which means he can’t play Minecraft and then ask to watch TV or play on the Wii that same day).
- He can play Minecraft for the equivalent of one television program. Typically, my son plays Minecraft while my daughter watches a program, so the start and finish of her show is his timekeeper. (It’s important to note that this time limit came from my son—not me! I would have given him longer, as all of my techie friends say that you need a good hour to get really into Minecraft.)
- He is allowed to play Minecraft at friends’ houses, but the aforementioned rules apply, and he has to update my husband and/or me about the game he plays there.
We will revisit the rules when school is out to—maybe—increase the amount of time he can play. I am still thinking about that.
And, if he breaks the rules? Minecraft goes away temporarily—or permanently, depending upon the infraction.
Interestingly, my seven-year-old daughter has not expressed interest in Minecraft at all—she also rarely plays the Wii—and I am curious to see if that changes now that my son is becoming a Minecraft expert. If she wants to play, she’ll have rules to follow, too.
We’ve had these guidelines in place for a few weeks now. So far, everything is going well, and it’s been fun to see what my son creates in Minecraft. Who knows? I may have to give it a try myself—a gold, floating house, after all, isn’t something you see every day.