Not Just Fun and Games

When I was growing up in an urban setting in St. Louis, I spent my afternoons exploring the alleys behind our home and crossing vast concrete expanses on my “horse”—a banana-seat Schwinn.  On the weekends, my dad would take me to Forest Park and, in the summertime, I was privileged to spend time fishing, biking and playing games on my grandparents’ farm in beautiful North Carolina.

Playing games and spending time outside was an essential part of my childhood, but for today’s kids, it seems as though there are so many fun adventures and creative spaces offered inside, that being “sent outside” to “play games” feels like a punishment.  The way that children “play” has changed substantially over the past decade—a Pew Report found that 97% of all teens play video games.  A Kaiser Family Foundation Report found that on a typical day, 8- to 18-year-olds spend an average of 1 hour and 13 minutes playing video games.

While I am all in favor of encouraging children to play outside (and I’m not talking about playing games in a park on handheld gaming devices!), as kids spend significant time playing on gaming devices, parents need to be involved.  When I was growing up, I had rules about where I could go, how long I could be outside and with whom I could play.  We also knew our neighbors, and they watched out for me.

In the gaming world, it’s important for parents to know what games they are playing and with whom their children are playing games.  With advances in technology, video games are becoming increasingly graphic and realistic, and kids can now play games with friends from around the block or strangers around the world.  Law enforcement personnel have highlighted that multiplayer gaming sites are being used as a new avenue for predators to groom children.

Additionally, many games are filled with highly sexualized and violent content, and unfortunately, young kids are playing these games.  Over half of all 8- to 18-year-olds say they have played Grand Theft Auto, despite its mature rating and graphic (and objectionable) content.  Only 30% of children today have rules about what video games they can play and the amount of time they can spend playing video games.  A recent study out of the UK suggests that whereas parents are not likely to allow their children to watch R-rated films, they are more lenient when it comes to allowing their children to play age-inappropriate games, and that this disconnect may be because parents do not fully understand either the realism of the themes that many of these games contain.

This is not to say that there aren’t many wonderful, engaging and educational games that children can and should play, but as parents in the Web 2.0 world, it’s important to be involved and be aware.

A few tips:

  • Use the parental controls on your child’s gaming devices, consider restricting the chat features, setting time limits, and limiting access to only age-appropriate games.
  • Play games alongside your children—this can be a great way to learn and connect with your teens.  See a recent post from GetGameSmart.
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    1. Pornography and Gaming: The New “Twofer” « Enough Is Enough's Blog

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