During one of our recent podcasts, we took the time to discuss the never ending topic of parenting and videogames. Usually when anything negative involving violence and children occurs, you have all of the politicians, media, and parents coming out of the woodwork to use videogames as an easy scapegoat. And instead of taking the time to defend videogames until we’re blue in the face, I figured it would be beneficial if we took the time to help the moms and dads out there to better educate themselves on how to be a more responsible parent while allowing their kids to still enjoy their hobby of choice. Check out the steps below!
1. Use the Rating System!
The Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB) is a rating system that has been in place for over 15 years. They are responsible for all of those letter ratings you find on the bottom left corners of any videogame software that’s purchased in the US (other countries have similar systems in place). The ratings can vary from “E for Everyone” all the way up to “M for Mature” and even “Adults Only”, although, you’d be hard pressed to find one with the dreaded “AO” stamp on it. For any of the more intense ratings such as “T for Teen,” and anything beyond that, you’ll also find a convenient break down of the material in question on the back side of the box. Things like strong language, sexual content or adult themes are all clearly listed — that way you can make a sound decision as to what kind of content you’ll be exposing to your son or daughter. You can also look up titles on the ESRB website (www.esrb.org) for additional details as well.
2. Parental Controls
You wouldn’t buy a car without knowing its safety features. In the same way, you wouldn’t have toddlers running around the house without baby gates to keep them out of harm’s way. If you’re depending on these consoles and handhelds to be virtual babysitters, I recommend that as parents you learn what kinds of parental controls are offered. Every modern system on the market has some form of parental controls and it works in direct correlation with the rating system you read about above. If your child brings home a mature rated game that he or she shouldn’t be playing, then parental controls will stop him or her in their tracks — even when you’re not around. Console manufacturers take this functionality very serious and, more recently, Nintendo is a great example of that. As soon as they warned that children under the age of 6 shouldn’t be allowed to play game using the 3D effect on the Nintendo 3DS because of their developing, they also announced that parental controls on the handheld has the ability to lock the 3D feature entirely.
3. Read Before You Buy
More often than not, our site and sites like us review games right before or around their release dates. Take the time as a parent (in between all of your Facebooking and online shopping) to do your homework and check out some of the reviews. I will admit that for the most part, many sites, us included, break down more of the technical aspects of a title. Things such as visuals, sound, presentation and gameplay usually take precedence when we’re critiquing, but we do take the time to break down plot and story elements as well as the theme. And while we’re not in the business of spoiling the stories of these games, we do try to give any overall feel as to what to expect. Use these evaluations to determine if the videogame in question or of interest is something that your child should be playing.
4. Ask Questions
I think this one can be a hit or miss depending on where you get your games, but if by chance you do go to a videogame centric retailer such as GameStop or even a local mom and pop shop, take the time to talk to the clerks. More often than not, people behind the registers at these places can help you in determining whether a game is something that your little one should be playing. It’s actually their job to make sure that certain titles aren’t sold to people under 17 years of age, so they do take this type of thing seriously. As a parent you cannot be afraid to ask.
5. Talk to Your Kids
One of the biggest things a parent can do is simply just have a good conversation with their children. This talk should be about fantasy vs. reality and appropriate vs. inappropriate. Even something as innocent as cartoon violence is a topic that should be explained as behavior that’s not OK in real life. An,d although this is a conversation that parents should have with their children in general, it’s one that’s often overlooked and not just when it comes to games — it also pertains to books and movies. It’s not just about keeping your elbows off the table, it should also be about not pretending to be “Frogger” in real life.
6. Stand Your Ground
I can’t say how many times that I’ve been at a midnight launch for a videogame and see kids that really shouldn’t be there. Mom or dad is sitting and waiting in a car nearby, and when it’s finally their child’s turn to enter the store at midnight, out they come as the kids are too young to buy the game from the store. I’ve seen sales clerks straight up tell the parents “hey, this game is pretty violent” to then watch the parents reply back “well, he’s been driving me crazy about this game.” And honestly, that’s the biggest problem right there. You know how the old parenting saying goes “I want to give him or her everything that my parents couldn’t give me,” but sometimes you just need to stick to your guns and, just like you’ll tell them as they get to their teenage years, just say no.