As evidenced by the near-monthly blog posts I write on the subject, I spend a lot of time and effort worrying about my child’s relationship with money.
I spend nearly as much time and effort on her financial literacy as she does on… video games.
Little Bit loves her video games, and she spends as much time as the charge on her Kindle and I will allow orchestrating singing monsters, slinging Angry Birds and catching Pokemon.
So I’ve asked myself how can I use what she loves to develop the skills I want her to have? Can I boost her financial literacy with video games?
I think in some ways, she’s doing this on her own. My job is just to make sure those lessons stick by talking her through the lessons she’s learning.
With a little effort, though, parents can do a lot to enhance a child’s financial literacy with video games. It just takes some attention, some conversation, and some ground rules.
Know What Your Kid is Playing
There are some games that explicitly teach your kid about money, and if your kid likes those, terrific. But, I’ve found that there’s a lot I can do to boost Little Bit’s financial literacy with the games she picks out and plays on her own. It’s just a matter of knowing what she’s playing and looking for the lessons i can apply.
And that means listening, even when listening can be a chore.
It’s really easy to disengage from your child’s chatter about video games. They are discussing virtual worlds with arcane rules and it may seem like it has absolutely nothing to do with your life.
Maybe not, but that game he can’t stop talking about must be pretty important to your child. You probably need to make an effort to at least look at it. Better yet, play for a minute or two. (He’ll probably be glad to tutor you through the basics.)
If you don’t know what your child is playing, there will be no way for you to discuss it with your child to improve their financial literacy. That game is an opportunity for you to connect with your child with something she loves and connect it to real life. So listen, play and share.
Say No To In-App Purchases
The number one rule to improve your kid’s financial literacy with video games is “No in app purchases.”
Most of the games Little Bit plays are free, but as I’ve already pointed out, free games can get expensive. All it takes is a few in-app purchases and soon you’ve spent $5, $10, or even $100 to add in-game currency, speed up a few quests, or unlock premium content.
In other words, to get the good stuff and get it NOW!
Despite much pleading, cajoling, and asserting that “It’s my money!,” we do not allow her to make in app purchases. (And we also protect our accounts so she can’t buy without our permission and participation.)
Now, her dad and I have come by this decision from different angles. Jon will play an occasional video game, but it’s never been his thing. His stance is “That costs real money. We don’t use real money for pretend things.”
I game, though. I love my Japanese RPGs and puzzle games, so I tend to sympathize with Little Bit’s desire for cooler game stuff. However, because I’m a gamer, I also see that not making in-app purchases forces her to work for what she wants, accumulate resources and choose how to spend her in-game assets.
Want to spend game money to speed things up? You can do that, but it will cut off your ability to purchase an upgrade later. Far better to wait, game hard and save for better stuff later.
That’s a lesson that only works if your child doesn’t have the ability to circumvent the game by adding outside resources. If you make your child “earn” their game progress, they learn to save and prioritize their resources.
Make Them Save
Little Bit’s recently started saying she wants a Wii U or a 3DS.
While she’s saved as much as $90, a console game system is a bit of a reach for her. New ones tend to run $200 or more.
I’m telling her to go for it. If she can save the money for the system, her dad and I will buy her 2 games.
Considering how expensive those games are, that’s a pretty good deal. Video game consoles and console games cost a lot more than Barbie Dolls and Tonka trucks, whether the games are made by Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft.
I think it’s a great thing for my daughter to set and go for a big savings goal. Far better for her to save and use her allowance for bigger and better stuff than to trickle money out on cheap items that entertain her for an hour at most. And I won’t buy her the console (though if she gets close by Christmas, Santa might chip in a gift card to help her reach her goal.) Once she gets her initial 2 games, she’ll have to save for more.
If your kid wants expensive games, use the opportunity to make them save their allowance, earn some extra dollars, or sell some of their stuff to fund those wants.
Game Lessons to Point Out
While you can probably teach financial literacy to your kid with any video game, some games are better suited than others to the task and some lessons are easier to find. For instance, my daughter runs out of energy on Bad Piggies pretty fast, so we can talk about delayed gratification:
“No. I’m not spending $2.99 so you can play the game for 5 more minutes today. Go play something else for a couple of hours and give your energy time to recharge.”‘
And games that teach delayed gratification or making (and living with) choices about what to do with game money are easy to find. Fortunately, those are two pretty important lessons that need to be covered in detail and in Little Bit’s case, on a regular basis (I really want them to sink in!)
But Little Bit also plays Animal Crossing on
my her Nintendo DS, a simulation game that has all the lessons you could expect of living in a town full of cute and furry animals to provide. So she gets the joy of paying off a mortgage, selling items from virtual dumpster diving, and playing the stalk market (You can clean up if you sell those turnips at the right time.)
Games that require some strategic planning generally have a lot of economic lessons to teach. Simulations, war games and role playing games are all particularly good for this. Want to build an army? You better build up the resources to feed and supply it first. Want to build up resources for an epic quest? What do you have that you can sell? Should you sell it to a vendor, or is there an in-game auction? What should you be spending money on to advance? What’s a waste?
There are a wealth of lessons to learn.
Improving Financial Literacy With Video Games
Play is a child’s work, and children learn valuable lessons through play that they don’t even know they are learning.
And you just thought that was about Legos and baby dolls, sharing and taking turns and developing fine muscle control. Those preschool lessons are important, but play doesn’t stop at preschool. As kids get older more and more of that play becomes digital. Kids between 8-12 years old average 13 hours a week on video games.
That’s an awful lot of time.
If your child plays video games, it’s far better to make the most of them by looking for what lessons you can out of it. Engage with your child, participate, and bring out those financial literacy and other life lessons.
What are your views on the benefits and drawbacks of video games? Have you thought about how you can improve your child’s financial literacy with video games?