Parents have long-since succumbed to their teens' fascination with video games, but is that who's really at the joystick these days? More and more, younger children are favouring the thrill of playing their older siblings' games and media-savvy pre-schoolers are well versed in the latest television shows and video game offerings, many of which are entirely inappropriate for children.
Video gaming is so prevalent today, we are raising a generation of children who kill monsters atop castles, rip heads off their foes and commit untold atrocity, all before they can read.
Addressing parents' real concern over kids' exposure to sex and violence in today's heavy gaming environment, VTech has launched the V.Smile TV Learning System, the first-ever video game platform designed specifically for young children. V.Smile connects directly to the television, just like older kids' gaming consoles, and delivers age-appropriate, education-based content that is non-violent and positive for 3-to-7 year-olds, and which reinforces what kids are learning in school.
According to a recent survey conducted by Strategy One, there is an ongoing tug of war regarding media at home. Sixty-two percent of U.S. households with a child between the ages of 3 and 7 have a traditional gaming console, yet more than 83 percent of parents of 3-to-7 year old children are aware that these video console games contain violent or sexually explicit content.
Eighty-one percent of those parents believe that existing video games are not appropriate for young children. At the same time, parents are overwhelmingly concerned (81 percent) about providing their young children with educational learning products, and 77 percent believe that these types of games can be helpful to their child's development (i.e., hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills). This is a double-edged sword for parents who want to be viewed as "good" by saying yes to fun while at the same time setting limits, particularly when kids are clamouring for their older siblings' video games. Adding to the dilemma is parents' confusion about what is good or bad. Frequent reports offer a range of differing viewpoints on everything from screen time to appropriate content. How can today's parents get credit for being "good" while also taking steps to ensure their kids reap educational and positive social benefits from video game play?
"When VTech developed the V.Smile Learning System we created a product that would benefit children and help parents feel good about saying 'yes' to video games," said Julia Fitzgerald, vice president of marketing, VTech Electronics North America. "V.Smile meets kids' calls for cool and interactive games and also meets parents' demands for engaging educational and age- appropriate content."
"Plug-and-play is a hot trend this year as people continue to make the television the hub for their digital entertainment activities," said Robin Raskin, a leading authority on today's family and their relationship with technology. "Today's reality is that kids play video games, and because young children like to imitate what they see their older siblings are doing, it makes sense that toys like V.Smile will ease the battle, allowing parents to satisfy their kids' needs while still providing them a learning experience."
The TV-time struggle exists in many households. Now, rather than fighting the trend, parents have the opportunity to unite with their kids to give them what they want - video games - while still providing a quality experience and allowing themselves peace of mind knowing that their children are interacting with age-appropriate content, having fun and learning all at the same time.
V.Smile teaches essential day-to-day skills and curricula such as language, math, vocabulary and problem solving with entertaining exchangeable game Smartridges. V.Smile's 2004 library features 10 Smartridges with a variety of kids' favourite characters like Winnie the Pooh and Scooby-Doo, which guide children through fun games and developmental activities that help them learn to follow directions, develop fine motor skills, and gain confidence as they're rewarded with positive phrases. Children navigate each game by using a hand-held joystick with colourful oversized buttons, which can be adapted for right-and left-handed players alike.
A Healthy TV Diet
Experts agree that parents will have to work with the TV and video game trend rather than buck it. Dr. Helen Boehm, a child development expert and author of the 2004 Guide to the Right Toys and Fearless Parenting is well aware of the TV and video game debate. To help parents find a solution to the near daily struggle surrounding TV and video games, Boehm developed a unique approach to a balanced relationship between kids, parents and the television. Boehm's Healthy TV Diet includes tips for parents to follow when creating viewing guidelines for their children. Boehm recommends five guidelines to parents:
-- preview programs and games to ensure they offer age-appropriate content and activities; -- set a good example as a role model with your own TV and game habits; -- incorporate movement and physical activity when possible; -- set consistent screen time limits for the TV, computer and gaming products; and -- connect viewing and playing with learning.
"VTech truly developed an intelligent option to the often inappropriate video games and television programming that young children gravitate toward," said Dr. Helen Boehm. "Young minds are easily influenced and parents should monitor the information their children receive through the media. V.Smile is truly revolutionary in that it provides children with fun, engaging content that will stimulate their minds and aid in their educational development."
The V.Smile TV Learning System features a library of licensed Smartridges for 2004, including Scooby-Doo, Spider-Man & Friends, Care Bears, and Disney's Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. Each has its own colorful setting, theme and characters to immerse kids in new adventures each time they play. The V.Smile TV Learning System comes with the console, Alphabet Park Smartridge and a joystick, and retails for approximately US$59.99; Smartridges will retail for approximately US$19.99. Additional licensed Smartridges are in development for 2005.