gaming consoles for children
The internet has changed the world of gaming. As well as being able to play against people in other locations, today’s games consoles allow you to do a multitude of other activities online.
When selecting a console to purchase, it’s important to think about who in the family will be using it, where it will be used and the type of content you’re happy for your children to have access to.
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Five things you should consider when buying a console
Different games consoles are best suited to different ages. Some, such as the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, have a greater number of games suitable for younger children than, for example, the Xbox One and PlayStation models.
Almost all consoles connect to each platform’s online app or game store, which can be used to buy and download games. Each therefore has an option to prevent a child accidentally buying a game or spending money through in-game purchasing. Some have this on as a default but you can adjust this when you set parental controls.
Many games on new consoles feature online multiplayer gameplay. This means the player is competing against or with other players over the internet and often involves interaction, either via instant messaging and/or voice communications via headsets. This can be restricted using parental controls settings to avoid children playing against people they don’t know, which could open them up to the risk of grooming or bullying.
Most new consoles connect to the internet so you should set up parental controls straight away to ensure your child doesn’t access inappropriate content. The Internet Matters tool gives you step-by-step guides for different types of console.
Consoles also require an internet connection to download updates. Some have stand-by modes that allow them to remain connected to the internet and download content even when they’re not in use. You can prevent this by turning the device off (through an on screen option or physical power button).
How do I know if a game is appropriate for my child?
Like films, all games have their own official age classification. The “PEGI” rating will appear on the box and helps you to ensure a game is suitable for your child. You might also want to check online reviews to be sure there aren’t themes or areas you feel uncomfortable with.
Consoles to consider for your child
Here are some reviews of games consoles currently available with pointers on the age they’re appropriate for, what online activities they allow, and the types of games that can be played on them.
We’ve reviewed (in ascending age-appropriate order):
Perfect first device for young children
The LeapFrog Leap TV is specifically designed for young children aged three to eight. It is the only home console available that exclusively offers games of educational value as well as being fun to play.
Starts from around £60.
The LeapFrog Leap TV doesn’t currently have any access to the internet, so a child can’t accidentally go online, nor does it have any form of internet browsing. You can be safe in the knowledge that your child has no outside influences, even if left alone to play.
Best for child-friendly games
Nintendo has always been the most child-friendly of all the big gaming companies and this device reflects that. There are many features that ensure children are protected while using the product, especially when they go online.
Depending on which model you choose, pricing starts at around £100.
There are many games available for the 3DS that are designed for children of all ages, and for younger children often feature favourite characters from TV shows or films.
The Nintendo 3DS (which is also available with a larger screen – 3DS XL) connects to the internet and has many online features, including internet browsing, but there is a simple to use parental controls section in the settings that can restrict access to games, websites or online content unsuitable to their age group.
Nintendo Wii U
Ideal for whole family use
Nintendo’s most recent home games machine is geared more towards the whole family, with plenty of games that parents can enjoy alongside their children. The game controller can also be used to play games even when the television is being used for something else.
The basic model starts at around £149.
The parental controls restrict access to content, games or websites appropriate to your chosen age range. Its online capabilities also include web browsing and buying games from the Nintendo e-Shop, but both actions can be locked.
Nintendo’s in-game and external chat is simple and well moderated on all of its machines; owners can post simple drawn pictures or messages, and talk to each other through their Mii avatars – cute characters created by the user.
Handheld for slightly older gamers
The PS Vita is a portable device with a screen roughly the same size as a smartphone. It has a range of features that allow access to online social media and communication tools.
Prices start from £149, depending on which model you choose.
The PS Vita connects to the internet and has a web browser. Beyond gaming there are applications for social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. The console can also be used to make Skype video calls.
Even though the Vita is recommended for older children, with most of its games being more mature in tone, it is easy to set up PIN-locked parental controls through a dedicated application on the home screen as soon as it’s turned on.
All-in-one entertainment machine for teens and upwards
Offering much more than just gaming, this is the best console for the living room, but is not particularly suited to younger children as they are only a few games available which are appropriate for them.
Prices start around £299.
This device makes full use of its internet connection to offer a large selection of applications for download and has its own web browser.
Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Now TV, Skype and more can all be accessed through the Xbox One and if you have a Sky or Virgin Media TV box, you can plug either into the back and use the console to control them too.
Its parental controls uses profiles that can be signed into, so different family members can have different restrictions.
Most advanced for sharing gameplay
Sony’s PlayStation 4 is much more suitable for older children and adults. It offers web browsing, video streaming and entertainment applications including playing Blu-rays and DVDs, although on a smaller scale than the Xbox.
Prices start around £329.
This device allows you to share gameplay with other PS4 owners over the internet, including friends who can take over the control of the game in order to help a player get past a tricky section. Strangers cannot take control unless invited, nor can they watch your child’s gameplay unless it’s specifically shared with them. But this is something to be aware of and the feature can be locked entirely with the use of parental controls.
The parental controls on the PS4 are extensive and can restrict or allow a wide selection of features.
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