How to Choose Age-Appropriate Video Games for Kids

Teach your children what to look for in video games

Boys playing video games

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Buying age-appropriate, safe video games for your children is an extremely important step in preventing your family's exposure to strong, graphic violence and mature themes. Especially if your children travel back and forth between two homes, or you're concerned about the media violence they may be exposed to at friends' houses, you'll want to teach them what to look for in safe video games. The following steps do not require much time, and they are key to setting effective limits on the video games you allow your children to play.

Know What the Entertainment Safety Ratings Board (ESRB) Ratings Mean

Teach your children about the ESRB symbols and what each rating means. The most common ratings are:

  • E for "everyone," but really refers to children over the age of six.
  • E-10 for everyone over the age of 10.
  • T for teens.
  • M for mature, for individuals 17 and older.

For more information, refer to the ESRB Ratings Guide.

Read the ESRB Rating Assigned to Each Game

Look at the back of the game to find the ESRB rating symbol. In addition, you'll find a small box listing examples of why the game was given that rating. For example, a game might be rated "T" for mild cartoon violence, or it might expose players to brief nudity.

Look up the Game' Title on the ESRB Web Site

Using the ESRB website to look up a specific game will give you even more detailed information about the game's rating. The more information you have, the more equipped you will be to make an informed decision about the game's value. Keep in mind, too, that some games are given different ratings for different game systems. So the same video game might be rated "E" on your child's Gameboy system, but rated "T" on PlayStation 2.

Teach Your Children to Evaluate Video Games

Spend some time talking about what types of images and behaviors you don't want your children to be exposed to through video games. For example, some "T" games expose kids to brief nudity as a "reward" when they advance through certain levels of the game; and some "M" games contain horrific examples of violence toward women. Ask them whether various games represent behaviors they would be proud to display in "real life." If not, that may be a strong indication that you wouldn't want them to spend numerous hours mimicking those same behaviors.

Be Consistent

It's hard for kids to understand why we might allow a "T" game that includes mild cartoon violence, but not allow a "T" game that includes more graphic violence. To avoid confusion, be consistent regarding which games you choose to purchase and allow your children to play. If you have children of varying ages, keep your older kids' games out of reach of the younger children.

Make Your Expectations Clear

Take the time to share your expectations with anyone who might be purchasing video games for your children as gifts. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends certainly mean well, but they might not understand why you're choosy about which games your kids can play. Especially if they do not have children, or if they have older children, the idea that video games could be anything but harmless may be foreign to them. Try to be specific in explaining the various things you don't want your children to be exposed to, like nudity and violence toward women, and share your hope that they will choose to honor the guidelines you've set.

Trust in Your Kids

Finally, once you've made your expectations clear and taught your children how to evaluate games for themselves, have faith in them. In addition, applaud them when they tell you they came home early from a friend's house because the other kids were going to play a "T" or "M" game. Let them know that you notice their obedience to your expectations, and celebrate their integrity together. In this way, you'll be affirming your child's decision to choose safe video games when other alternatives were readily available.

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