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Picking the Right Video Games for Kids

Friday, December 16, 2011


He wants it, but is it appropriate? How to know better before you buy.

Video games are one of the top items on kids', and some adults', holiday wish list this season. It is important, however, to know what you are buying. GoLocalProv asked Nicole Franklin, MD, a fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Bradley Hospital and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, for her top tips on how to shop for this ever-hot holiday gift.

How do I know what the games are about?

The Internet has many great Web sites devoted to informational reviews on the games. Most online video stores have links to professional reviews as well a place for users to leave their own comments. Often there are also screen shots, as well as a video with shots of actual game play. This is typically a good indicator of what the game will look like and how realistic the game play may be. Of course, you can also ask the staff at specialized video game stores, as they play these games themselves, and their job requires them to tell parents and kids about mature themes in a game prior to selling it.

What does the rating system mean?

The rating system for video games is determined by the ESRB (entertainment software rating board). The range is from C (for early childhood) to A (adult only). A visit to their website, www.esrb.com, is helpful to review the way they establish a rating for video games. In reviewing games myself, it has become clear that although the rating is a useful guide, or starting point, there is definitely room for ambiguity. Two games rated M (or mature) may be rated M for various reasons, such as violence, language or sexual themes. However, violence is a vague term and most parents of a teenager are going to be less strict on a child playing a game where they are slaying bees made out nuts and bolts, versus using weapons to kill a soldier and leave them lying in a pool of blood.

How can I monitor what the kids are playing?

The best way to monitor what your kids are playing is to get all of the information on a game beforehand by using websites and talking to the experienced staff at these stores. There are also ways to rent games prior to buying them which would allow you as the parent to play the game first, or at least observe the children playing before committing to purchasing a game, which can cost up to $60. Remember, you have the ultimate say and that if at any time you feel that the game is not appropriate, stop game play. Many video game stores will buy back used games for at least store credit and they can help determine an age appropriate game for your child.

What if the game my child asks for is too mature?

Start by using the tools above to review the game and make your own decision on the rating. If you still find that the game is too violent, or has other themes you do not want to expose your child to, ask them if there are other games they may be interested in. It is a good idea to provide options that you know you will be okay with as they may continue to pick games on their own you are not appropriate.  It is always best to have an open conversation with them about your decision with the understanding that your decision has been made.  This can often be difficult as their peers may not have the same supervision, but having an open conversation and answering their questions will often satisfy their need to know “why.”

How much time should I allow them to play each day?

This is a long debate between parents and kids and even the medical field. The current recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics is to limit their playing time to one hour per day.  Often, parents and practitioners alike will say that this one hour a day can also be used to watch TV, but that the children should be given the choice to use this one-hour of “screen time” as they wish. Studies have shown that increased playing of violent video games can lead to aggressive behaviors and that there is also a loss of socialization as gaming can be an isolating experience.  These outcomes can be avoided by monitoring and limiting play, but also encouraging other social activities for your child.


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