What you need to know about online gaming

In addition to being fun, playing video games can reduce stress, lighten depression, increase vision, improve the ability to multi-task and improve decision-making skillsi. Online gaming is also linked to obesity, increasing depression, poor grades, addictive behavior and increased aggressive or violent behaviorii.

Confronted with seemingly conflicting research findings, parents need to take time to be informed about the games their children are playing, the safety settings and features of the devices they are playing games on, and then apply common sense to their kids’ online gaming opportunities. Recognize that what works for one child may not be the right mix for another child.

What is included in the term video game?

The term “video game” spans everything from playing a simple game of Solitaire on your own to massively multiplayer online games (MMOG’s) with whole virtual universes, where users interact with other players, and where transactions – usually points or game enhancements, but sometimes real money – are involved.

Video games are played on computers and laptops, handheld devices, game consoles – and with increasing frequency – on phones and tablets. Some games are purchased and installed on devices, others are downloaded from the internet, and some are played exclusively online.

Video games are popular at all ages: Older women top the use of simple single player games; young men are the heaviest users of “war games.” The massively multiplayer games attract users from 8-80. Some games are educational; others are horrifically violent and may include graphic sexuality. Yet many games are set up to be played with friends or family in the same room and many of these games are a great way for families to interact and spend time together.

Games are rated to help parents and youth identify the type of content in each game

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) evaluates video and computer games and provides a rating system similar to film ratings so parents can make informed decisions prior to purchasing a game.

These ESRB ratings have two components: 1) Symbols that suggest appropriate ages for players, and 2) descriptors to help parents understand what elements factored in to the rating score. To successfully use the ESRB rating system, you need to look at both aspects. Check the rating symbol (on the front of the game box) and the content descriptors (on the back of the game box).

Understand the capabilities and safety features of gaming devices

Game consoles today come with family safety settings (often called parental controls) that allow parents to set time limits, block inappropriate games, and determine whether users can interact with only their friends, whether they can interact with any other gamer, or not be allowed to interact at all. You can find specific instructions for establishing these settings on the game console’s websites or you can look at A Parent’s Guide to Video Games, Parental Controls and Online Safety.

On computers, you can use the built-in family protection tools or parental control tools you install yourself to set the same types of limits. Handheld devices also have control settings, and one setting to pay particular attention to is whether you allow Bluetooth connections that allow others to interact with your child through this type of device.

If the game is played online, and allows players to interact, keep in mind that the safety settings and controls do not monitor the conversations within the games. While most conversations will be entirely appropriate, there may be some people who choose not to act appropriately. If your child interacts with others, talk to them about the potential for bullying, people who cheat, and people that want to get too friendly (or other grooming behavior). For younger kids, there are many online gaming sites specifically designed for youth with content moderators reviewing conversations. These may be the right option for you.

Helpful tips for healthy gaming

Explain that you will help them with any problem they encounter like cyberbullying, cheating or other inappropriate behavior by using the report abuse functionality within the sites. Let them also know that any inappropriate behavior on their part will have immediate consequences; and spell out what the consequences will be for failing to follow the family’s or website’s rules, so these are clear in advance of any trouble.

i http://healthland.time.com/2012/04/20/study-playing-a-video-game-helps-teens-beat-depression/    http://kdvr.com/2012/05/03/new-research-video-games-may-be-good-for-the-brain/ , http://www.rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=2764

ii http://www.ehow.com/list_5858966_negative-effects-computer-games-children.html, http://pss.sagepub.com/content/20/5/594.abstract ,