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Nintendo Switch: a parent’s guide

Nintendo Switch console

Since it burst onto the scene in 1983 with a roster of lovable characters and colourful games, Nintendo has become almost synonymous with family-friendly gaming. The company’s latest console – the Nintendo Switch – has taken the world by storm and is a hit with children and adults alike.

Is your child immersed in their favourite Switch game during lockdown? Or are you thinking about ordering a Switch online for your family? Here’s what you need to know.

What should you be aware of?

  • Versatility: One of the Switch’s main selling points is that it can be played both at home and on the go. The console itself is a tablet that can be hooked up to a TV or be used on its own with detachable controllers – or Joy-Cons – on each side. Each Joy-Con also works as a standalone controller, making it easy for gamers to play together.
  • Game cards: Switch games come on cards rather than discs. These cards (which are  similar to those used for Nintendo’s DS and 3DS) are deliberately coated with an awful-tasting but non-toxic chemical called denatonium benzoate to discourage young children from putting them in their mouths.
  • Just for games: The Switch connects to the internet but doesn't support streaming apps – such as Netflix or Amazon Prime – as its main competitors do. Nor can it play Blu-Rays or DVDs. The Switch is, for the moment at least, a console designed only for gaming.
  • Loot boxes: You can play online games on the Switch and some of these contain loot boxes – virtual treasure chests that can be purchased by in-game currency or real money. Nintendo has latterly taken a pretty tough stance on loot boxes and will insist that all games that include them disclose the probability of a loot box yielding specific rewards by the end of 2020. Find out more about loot boxes.
  • Switch vs Switch Lite: In September 2019, Nintendo launched the Lite version of the Switch. Paradoxically, it doesn’t ‘switch,’ as it’s an entirely handheld device, but otherwise it works just like the standard version.

Is it family-friendly?

Nintendo has a reputation for producing family-friendly consoles and games, and that’s also true of the Switch. 

It’s not groundbreaking in terms of technical spec or graphics – but it’s easy to set up and the menus are clean and simple to navigate. It’s also the most age-inclusive console on the market, as a majority of games are suitable for younger players (PEGI 3-7). Many of Nintendo’s own titles for the Switch have extensive multiplayer options which can appeal to both children and adults.

Joining your child for a round of Super Smash Bros. or asking them to show you around their island on Animal Crossing can offer insight into their play and the kind of content they’re seeing. Taking an interest in your child’s gaming will let them know that they can come to you if they come across anything that concerns or upsets them.

Are there any parental controls?

Parental controls don’t eliminate risk completely. As with any piece of tech, ensuring your child can recognise and respond to challenges is the best way of helping them while they’re gaming. That said, parental controls can be a useful tool for families who are looking to prevent accidental spending or stop their child from accessing inappropriate content.

For the Switch, all you have to do is to create a parent/guardian account on your child’s console and download Nintendo’s parental controls app from the App Store or Google Play Store. Some of the main features of this app include:

  • Time limits: Research from the Oxford Internet Institute suggests that what children do on screens is more important than the amount of time they spend – but you may still choose to set limits. Using the app you can set up daily quotas for your child. When their time is almost up, they will receive a notification that encourages them to finish what they’re doing. You can also enable a feature called ‘Suspend software’ which will automatically quit the game and turn the console off when the time is up.
  • Setting age limits: The app gives you the option to select which PEGI ratings you’re comfortable with your child playing. If you’d like to find out more about PEGI ratings, you can read our parent guide.
  • Communication with strangers: If you don’t want your child to be able to contact or be contacted by strangers, you can toggle the communication settings included in the app. For example, you can stop your child from sending or receiving messages and pictures outside of their ‘Friends’ list. To learn more about in-game chat, check out our parent guide.

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