Sue Scheff – Parenting teens – Learning about Video Games

Do you know about the video games your kids just received for the holidays?  Be an educated parent – keep informed.  Connect with Kids offers great parenting tips to help you.

Source: Connect with Kids www.connectwithkids.com

Violent Video Games

“You can do anything. Just try to kill him.”

– T.J Trimmer, 12-year-old video game player

12-year-old T. J. Trimmer is playing one of his favorite video games- Mortal Kombat.

The goal, he says simply, is to beat your opponent. “You can do anything,” T.J. says, his fingers frantically manipulating dials and buttons. “Just try to kill him. Like right now I’m attacking this guy with, like, punches and kicks. There are all these special moves that you can use…You attack your opponent….it’ll do more damage to him when you have one of (these) weapons.”

But according to new research from Iowa State University, T.J. isn’t just hurting his opponents.

Researchers studies over 1,500 kids and found that the children who played violent video games were more aggressive afterwards than those who did not.

“They’re not just releasing aggression,” says child psychiatrist Dr. Adolph Casal. “They’re practicing aggression. When we practice something, we get good at it. If we don’t practice something, we don’t get good at it. So spending a considerable amount of time in an aggressive, violent situation on a daily basis, is going to improve our aggression skills.”

Of course, T.J. disagrees. “Like this way, you take your anger out on someone else, but you don’t really take it out on someone. You can take it out on this.”

Experts say parents need to set rules about which games they will allow their children to play and for how long. 

Tips for Parents

The video-game industry has undergone a dramatic change since the birth of Super Mario, the happy acrobat who once thrilled children for hours as they played with their Nintendo systems.  Today, dark and adult-themed games like Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat are outselling kids’ games.  Even Nintendo has switched gears by offering games with edgier subjects like the zombies featured in Resident Evil.

Why has the landscape of the video-game industry undergone such drastic change?  Consider these statistics from the Entertainment Software Association:

  • The average game player is 35 years old and has been playing games for 13 years.
  • The average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 40 years old.
  • Forty percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (33 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent).
  • In 2008, 26 percent of Americans over the age of 50 played video games, an increase from nine percent in 1999.
  • Thirty-six percent of heads of households play games on a wireless device, such as a cell phone or PDA, up from 20 percent in 2002.

In its annual report at the end of 2008, the consumer watchdog organization the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF) gave the video-game industry nearly straight-A’s, with particularly high grades in the rating system and retail policies.

Parents, on the other hand, scored an “incomplete” by NIMF, due mainly to their lack of attention to the ratings system and because most don’t use the parental control features on game consoles.

As a parent, how can you prevent your child from becoming exposed to violent or sexually explicit media?  You can start by familiarizing yourself with the video game rating system. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rates every video and computer game for age appropriateness (located on the front of the packaging) and, when appropriate, labels games with content descriptions.  The ESRB’s current rating standard is as follows:

  • E:  Everyone
  • T:  Teens (13 and older)
  • M:  Mature audiences (17 and older)
  • AO:  Adults only

Children Now, a research and action organization, offers these additional tips for helping you to choose the right video games for your child:

  • Know your child.  Different children handle situations differently.  Regardless of age, if your child becomes aggressive or unsettled after playing violent video games, don’t buy games with violence in them.  Likewise, if your child likes playing games with characters that look like her or him, purchase games with characters that fit the bill.
  • Read more than the ratings.  While the ESRB ratings can be helpful, they do not tell the whole story.  Some features that you may consider violent or sexual may not be labeled as such by the ESRB.  In addition, the ESRB does not rate games for the positive inclusion of females or characters of color.  The language on the packaging may give you a better idea of the amount and significance of violence and sexuality and the presence of gender and racial diversity or stereotypes in the game.
  • Go online.  The ESRB website provides game ratings as well as definitions of the rating system.  In addition, you can visit game maker and distributor websites to learn more about the contents of a game.  Some have reviews that will provide even more information about the game.
  • Rent before you buy.  Many video rental stores also rent video games and consoles.  Take a trial run before you purchase a game. 
  • Talk to other parents.  Find out which games other parents like and dislike as well as which games they let your child play when he or she visits their house.  This is a good way to learn about the games that your child enjoys and those that other parents approve of, and to let other parents know which games you do not want your child playing.
  • Play the games with your child.  Know what your child is being exposed to and how he or she reacts to different features in the games.
  • Talk about what you see.  If your child discovers material that he or she finds disturbing or that you find inappropriate, talk about it.  This is a great opportunity to let your child know what your values are as well as to help him or her deal with images that may be troubling.
  • Set limits.  If you are worried that your child spends too much time playing video games, limit the amount of time or specify the times of day that video games can be played.
  • Put the games in a public space.  Just as with the Internet, keep your game consoles and computers in public family space so that you can be aware of the material your child is viewing.
  • Contact the game makers.  If you find material that you think is offensive or inappropriate, let the people who make and sell the games know about it.  Likewise, let game makers know if you think that a game provides healthy messages or images.  They do care what you think!

To make your search easier, the NIMF cites the following video games that are either positive for children or contain negative images for children to avoid:

Positive games for your child:

  • Guitar Hero World Tour
  • Rock Band 2
  • Rock Revolution
  • Spider-Man: Web of Shadows
  • Shaun White Snowboard

Games that are inappropriate for your child:

  • Blitz: The League II
  • Dead Space
  • Fallout 3
  • Far Cry 2
  • Gears of War 2
  • Legendary
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Resistance 2
  • Saints Row 2
  • Silent Hill: Homecoming

References

  • Children Now
  • Entertainment Software Rating Board
  • Federal Trade Commission
  • Interactive Digital Software Association
  • Iowa State University
  • National Institute on Media and the Family
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