- Who’s playing? While the industry constantly reports that the average age of the player has risen to the late twenties, a new study has found almost half of all “heavy gamers,” are six- to 17-years-old (NPD, 2006).
- Game time and physical health. Our own research this year found children who spend more time playing video games are heavier, and are more likely to be classified as overweight or obese. Furthermore, playing video games in the bedroom is an added risk factor for overweight and obesity.
- Screen time and school performance. We found the amount of time kids spend playing video games is correlated with poorer grades in school and attention problems.
- Violent video games and aggression. Scientific research shows that violent video game play increases aggression in young players in the short term. Additional studies show these effects last.
Once parents realize what is at stake, based on scientific research, they should start limiting game time and keeping M-rated games away from their children. Although the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating system seems to underrate some games, giving Teen ratings to games that deserve Mature ratings, all agree that the Mrated games are inappropriate for kids.
Parents should also take advantage of new technological tools to protect their kids. For instance, most new consoles include parental controls. Parents should learn how to use these devices and use them to set appropriate boundaries for their children. Additionally, some video game makers are focusing on kid-friendly games and technologies. The Nintendo DS, for example has gained a reputation as a “clean console” because of the vast number of E-rated games it supports, and Microsoft is said to be investing heavily in E and E 10+ games.
Parents also need to understand the changing purchasing patterns of their children. While the bricks-and-mortar retailers have made important improvements in keeping Mature games out of the hands of kids, online sales now account for a growing number of total sales. That means any child with an Internet connection and a debit, credit or magnetic striped gift card could purchase a Mature- or Adults Only-rated game.
Finally, and most importantly, we encourage parents once again to be MediaWise® and to Watch What Your Kids Watch. Limits and boundaries are crucial, but simply laying down rules and hoping kids will follow them is not enough. Parents need to engage in an ongoing dialog with their children about what games they are playing and for how long. Watching what your kids watch might mean playing what your kids play. Creating a conversation about content and amount won’t just protect kids – it will help parents reinforce meaningful communication with their children.