A: More than 80% of kids age 6-17 are playing video games on a regular basis, so it’s a good idea to get in the know. Since this is a huge topic, I’ll try and address the three most common questions related to video games:
1. Is it okay for my child to play [insert name of game]?
There is a huge range of video games out there, and the content and graphic nature makes it really important that you know and approve of the games your children want to play. When choosing games, consider what they are interested in (sports, cars, movies), talk to other parents with children the same age, understand the ratings on games, and do your research. (See ESRB ratings and parent-focused video game reviews below.) Games that promote problem solving, encourage cooperative play, or are challenging without being violent are ideal. Expert advice is to play with your children so you understand the game first hand, can see if any of the content concerns them, and are able to discuss the game and any impacts it has with your child.
2. How much video game playing is okay?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting your child’s “screen time” to one or two hours a day. This includes video games and computer time, TV watching and iPod/DS/PSP playing. It’s not just about how much time is too much, but also how that takes away from other things your child could be doing like playing outside, being creative, reading, or interacting with family and friends. Studies have linked excessive screen time with problems like obesity, lower grades, and difficulty paying attention. However, it’s not a good idea to ban video games altogether as they are a strong part of kids’ social lives, especially boys. Experts advise setting up rules and time limits that your kids need to stick to, but make them realistic enough that your child can finish a level or progress in a game in the time allowed. Also, keep tv’s and video game systems out of kid’s bedrooms and in a common area of your home where you can monitor them.
3. What are the effects of exposure to video games (and video game violence)?
Younger children are most at risk of being effected by video games as they cannot always tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Studies show that video game violence has an immediate effect of stirring up aggressive feelings and possible behaviour. Over a longer term, possible impacts are that kids may get desensitized to violence, get in more conflicts with peers and teachers, mimic character’s behaviours, and see grades decline. But it’s not only “shoot `em up” violence to be aware of. Many games intended for Mature audiences, include graphic violence against women (prostitution and rape); and although the rating for these games may be “M”, they are often marketed towards younger audiences, or younger kids play with their older siblings.
As a parent, you can set parental controls on most systems (see ESRB Parent’s Guide to Video Games, Parental Controls, and Online Safety below) and only allow games that you have investigated. Nothing can replace playing and talking to your kids about video games from a young age so that you can continue the discussion as content becomes more questionable.
Note: I did not have space to discuss online gaming and internet safety at all. If you have interest in this, I can cover this topic in a future article.
Canada’s Centre for Digital & Media Literacy on Video Games:
Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB):
ESRB Parent’s Guide to Video Games, Parental Controls, and Online Safety
Parent-Focused Video Game Reviews
Children’s Technology Review - www.childrenssoftware.com
Common Sense Media - www.commonsensemedia.org
GamerDad - www.gamerdad.com
What They Play - www.whattheyplay.com
Have more tips or resources to share? Add them to the comments below!