My six-year-old was flirting with the idea of asking Santa for a Nintendo DS this year. I know plenty of kids that age, and younger, have one, but I find the damn things so anti-social. Readers will know I'm not a huge fan of sticking the kids in front of TV and it looks like I have the same prejudices towards game consoles.
While researching this feature, I was shocked to find parenting forums discussing the suitability of DSs for four-year -olds. One parent noted that her almost four-year-old was "already showing interest in a Nintendo DS" and wondered if that was too young to own one.
A helpful mum replied that she had bought one for her "3.5-year-old kid" for Christmas and he is "totally loving it!" The thing is, most children will love interacting with a colourful, animated interface that emits cute sounds -- but that doesn't mean it's going to be any good for them.
I know games don't necessarily need to be good for kids and that Nintendo offers a huge range of games with educational leanings. Their online store sells 1,809 games (I'm astonished!) and they cover all themes from action and adventure to puzzles, music, fitness and something called edutainment. Helpfully, the webstore allows you input the age of the youngest player before narrowing down its recommendations.
Their age scale starts at three, with seven games with titles such as Did it Myself ABC123 and Wonder Pets to the Rescue.
Once you turn five in the world of Nintendo you suddenly have a choice of 1,316 age-appropriate games, which indicates that A) toddlers and Montessori kids are not their target audience and B) few parents are crazy enough to stick a toddler in the corner with a games console.
Lots of parents expressed concerns over their kids' computer game addictions, where they become immobile for hours on end.
Plenty of advice came back about limiting usage to weekends and special occasions. Others favoured using games as a bribe, with one mum giving her son 15 minutes' game time "if he reads at least three books during the week".
This is an interesting idea, though I can't help feeling this negatively equates reading with work rather than a leisure activity.
Likewise, another parent claims the Nintendos her four kids own are the "best things" she's ever bought. "My kids play them in the car, even when we are going on a 20-minute drive," she explains.
I don't know about you, but I think car journeys are a great place for kids to daydream. At least that's what I did as a child watching the world go by, imagining all kinds of stories behind the people and houses we whizzed past.
Pop a DS in a kid's hands and that whole pleasure of quiet observation and imagination disappears.
Last week, my son got his mitts on his cousin's DS and I watched as he slipped into a trance-like state until it had to be prised from his fingers.
I'm feeling more than a little relieved he hasn't got his heart set on owning one just yet. But I know it's only a matter of time.