Parents Are the Ultimate Video Game Controller
If you have a child between the ages of 3 and 17, chances are there is some video game playing going on in your house. And, these days, it's more likely than ever that most of you parents are gamers, as well.
A whole generation has now grown up playing video games, which is why it isn't all that surprising to find that the average age of a gamer today is 34. This also helps explain why some games are not intended for kids, and underscores why it's important parents play an active role in making sure the games their children play are ones they consider age-appropriate.
We recently asked PBS Parents to invite questions about kids' video games via Facebook and Twitter. Based on what we heard, we created these tips to help you be the "game controller" in your house:
1. Violent games aren't going anywhere, but that doesn't mean you have to let your kids play them. Some parents lament the violence in many of today's games and the fact that these seem to be all kids want to play. Whether we like it or not, many adults enjoy these games and that's not going to change. However, video games have ratings for a reason.
At the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), we assign age ratings and content descriptors that give an indication of what's in a game and which ones are suitable for different ages. We also provide rating summaries that offer a detailed description of a game's content, and a free mobile app that lets you look them up right from the store.
Use these tools along with your own judgment about what you consider appropriate, and don't be afraid to enforce some basic ground rules. Some parents forbid all M-rated games. Others allow them case-by-case depending on the content descriptors, the age and maturity of their kids (and how reliably they finish their homework and chores) or the type of game. Find what works for your family and stick with it.
2. Today's games have online features parents can and should manage using parental controls. Every game system comes with parental controls that let you restrict certain games and content, typically by ESRB rating. Some also provide tools for managing online features including whether games can be played online, with whom, when and for how long.
I highly recommend becoming familiar with the parental controls on your system and setting them in a way that suits your family's needs. Being aware of how your kids are engaging via online games is becoming increasingly important, given features such as "microtransactions" (buying virtual goods right from within the game itself), downloadable content (add-on items such as new game levels that can be purchased and downloaded directly to the game system) and live in-game chat via text, voice or even video.
3. There are plenty of great games that are not in the "first-person shooter" category. Nearly 75 percent of the ratings we assign are for games suitable for kids 12 and younger, and these games are frequently among the top-sellers. Parent-focused game review sites can be a big help when it comes to finding fun and popular options for different ages. Websites such as Common Sense Media and What They Play both provide helpful game reviews.
4. Remember, moderation in all things -- including video games. Video games are fun, and, of course, kids will want to play them for hours on end. By their very nature, games motivate you to keep playing. There is always another level to beat, bonus feature to unlock or achievement to attain. (If only we could get our kids to attack their schoolwork with the same level of single-minded dedication, right?)
As with the types of games you allow for your kids, try setting some reasonable time limits. Let your kids earn video game time instead of it being a given. And finally -- and this is something I always tell parents -- keep the game system in the living room or some other common area. This is an ideal way of keeping tabs on how much gaming is going on, what that gameplay is like, and just as important, reserving the bedroom space for schoolwork.
This article was originally on PBSParents and was written by Patricia Vance. Patricia was appointed president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) in November 2002. Ms. Vance serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Family Online Safety Institute as well as the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. She was also appointed to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG), which was established by Congress to make recommendations on the protection of children on the Internet through education, labeling and parental control technology.
Ms. Vance holds a B.A. in International Relations/Russian from Washington University in St. Louis, is the mother of two children and lives in Westchester County, NY.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.