In addition to being fun, playing video games can reduce stress, relieve depression, improve vision, improve the ability to multitasking and improve decision-making skills. Online gaming is also associated with obesity, increasing depression, poor grades, addictive behavior and increased aggressive or violent behavior.
Faced with seemingly contradictory research results, parents should take the time to be informed about the games their children play, the security settings and features of the devices on which they play games, and then apply their common sense to their children’s online gaming capabilities. Know that what works for one child might not be the right mix for another child.
What is included in the term video game?
The term “video game” includes everything from playing a simple solitaire game to massively multiplayer online games(MMOG’s)with entire virtual universes, where users interact with other players and where transactions take place – usually points or game improvements, but sometimes real money – are involved.
Video games are played on computers and laptops, handhelds, game consoles – and increasingly – on phones and tablets. Some games are purchased and installed on devices, others are downloaded from the Internet and some are played exclusively online.
Video games are popular with all ages: older women use most simple games for one player; young men are the biggest users of ‘war games’. The massively multiplayergames attract users from8-80. Some games are educational; others are horribly violent and may contain explicit sexuality. However, many games are set to play with friends or family in the same room and many of these games are a great way for families to work together and spend time.
Games are reviewed to help parents and young people identify the type of content in each game
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) reviews video and computer games and provides a rating system similar to movie ratings, allowing parents to make informed decisions before purchasing a game.
These ESRB reviews have two components:
- Symbols suggesting suitable ages for players,
- Descriptors to help parents understand which elements are included in the rating score. To successfully use the ESRB rating system, you need to look at both aspects. Check the rating symbol (on the front of the game box) and the content descriptions (on the back of the game box).
Understand the capabilities and safety features of gaming devices
Game consoles today come with family safety settings (often called parental controls) that allow parents to set time limits, block inappropriate games, and control whether users can communicate with their friends alone, whether they can communicate with another gamer or not.
On computers, you can use the built-in family protection tools or parental control tools that you install yourself to set the same types of limits. Handheld devices also have controls, and one setting you should pay particular attention to is whether you allow Bluetooth connections that allow others to communicate with your child through this type of device.
If the game is played online and players can communicate, please note that the security settings and controls do not track the conversations within the games. While most conversations will be entirely appropriate, there may be some people who choose not to act appropriately. If your child is seeing others, talk to them about possible bullying, people cheating and people who want to be too friendly (or other grooming behavior). For younger children, there are many online game sites designed specifically for young people with content moderators who review conversations. This may be the right option for you.
Useful tips for healthy gaming
- Think about your child’s age and maturity and the games they want to play. Do the games seem to suit your child when viewing the ESRB ratings and content descriptions? If there are older gamers in the house, kids will often want to play the games they see being played instead of the games that suit their age group. If the game played by older children is not appropriate, they probably shouldn’t watch when their siblings are playing.
- Look at the game machine your child will play on. Are the security settings in place for your child? Do they match his maturity level and help you set the right limits regarding the types of games that are allowed, who they are allowed to communicate with and the amount of time/times of the day they can play? If not, make sure you set up these safety settings before your child starts gaming.
- Talk to your child about appropriate gaming. This conversation is crucial because it provides the framework for understanding and collaboration for successful gaming. Talk about the security settings you’ve put in place, the types of games that are suitable or inappropriate, the time limits, and the importance of a balanced experience with online gaming, friends, activities, and school. Let your child know that you regularly check their game – especially when it comes to conversations with people you don’t know – to make sure the conversations are respectful, don’t share too much information, etc.
Explain that you help them with any problem they encounter, such as cyberbullying, cheating, or other inappropriate behavior, by using the abuse reporting functionality on the sites. Also let them know that any inappropriate behaviour on their part will have immediate consequences; explain what the consequences will be if you don’t follow the rules of the family or website so that they are clear before problems arise.
- Set time limits. Gaming is inherently attractive, with users wanting to reach the next level, earn the next point or find the improvement, and it’s easy to lose track of time. Finding the right amount of time can be a balancing act, but some basic guidelines may be that there isn’t gaming until homework and chores are done, that there’s more gaming on weekends than on school nights, and that 2 nights a week are technology-free nights in your home. If your child’s gaming device (console, laptop, phone, or computer) is in the bedroom, it’s especially important to set time limits for the device to avoid the temptation to play after bedtime.
- Keep an eye on the websites they visit. Since many games are played online through a computer that doesn’t notice that it’s a game being played, it’s important to review your child’s browsing history to determine if game time has extended to more hours.
- Play with them. Understand the games they play and join in the fun. This not only gives you a great way to bond with your child, it also gives you insight into what’s going on in the game.