Whether thumbing their way to the next level on handheld portable games, logging on to favorite game sites to challenge online opponents, or battling virtual bad guys with their buddies in the basement, lots of preteens and teens are making video games a big part of their techno-filled lives. And many of the games boast content that would make most parents cringe.
So researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Michigan State University asked 1,254 7th- and 8th-graders (most ages 12 to 14) detailed questions about their computer and video-game habits.
Almost all (about 90%) of the kids said they play electronic games frequently — a third of the boys and about 10% of the girls play almost every day. And two-thirds of boys and more than 1 in 4 girls said they'd played at least one game rated M (for "Mature") "a lot in the past 6 months."
Geared toward ages 17 and up, the M rating means the game may contain not only heavy-duty violence, but also strong language and sexual content. The kids who routinely played M-rated games were more likely to:
- be boys
- play with friends
- play with strangers online
- have both a gaming system and a computer in their bedroom
- play with older siblings
- use video games to manage their anger
The researchers also found that a lot of kids use video games to deal with their feelings — to forget their problems, help them relax, or feel less lonely.
More on Ratings
Every child's maturity and developmental stage is different, but these video-game ratings (established by the Entertainment Software Rating Board), address age ranges that "may be suitable for" kids of various ages, from preschoolers to teens:
- EC (Early Childhood): 3 and up, "no material that parents would find inappropriate"
- E (Everyone): 6 and up, "may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, and/or infrequent use of mild language"
- E10 (Everyone 10 and Older): "may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language, and/or minimal suggestive themes"
- T (Teen): 13 and up, "may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language"
- M (Mature): 17 and up, "may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language"
- AO (Adults Only): 18 and up, "may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity"
What This Means to You
To help keep your kids from playing inappropriate video games, it's wise to:
- Put computers and video-game consoles in common areas — not in kids’ rooms.
- Make sure younger kids aren't playing games meant for older siblings.
- Look at ratings, but also be sure to preview games before giving them to your kids. To try before you buy, check your local library or video store first.
- Talk to your kids about the games they're playing and monitor how games might be affecting them.
You can also reduce exposure to unacceptable online games by keeping tabs on your kids' Internet use with:
- parent-control options, offered by many Internet service providers (ISPs)
- software that can ban access to certain sites based on a "bad site" list
- filtering programs to keep certain sites from coming in
- programs to monitor and track your child's Internet activity
Just as you should be aware of which shows and movies your kids watch and the websites they frequent, make sure you know what kinds of games they're playing — and what types of messages they're sending.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2007
Source: "Factors Correlated With Violent Video Game Use by Adolescent Boys and Girls," Journal of Adolescent Health, July 2007.