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By Caryl Harvey

I want to make a confession. I grew up before the days of video games. Oh sure, when I was in my late teens and early twenties I was pretty good at Pong, and later I flirted a bit with Mario and Domino Man. I am not really a video game virgin. I am, however, not the most experienced gamer on the block.

My kids, on the other hand…

“Dinner,” I call downstairs.

No answer. Well, no human answer. I hear “Umph!” “Bump Bump” and then an assortment of pings and electronic blips. I go downstairs to retrieve the kids for their meal. Each holds a video game control and each leans toward the television screen as if trying to sink into it.

“Dinner,” I say again, smug that when they find out what I have cooked they’ll fall over one another to get to the table.

They jump.

“Mom…” one whines. I gather his virtual car is the one which just crashed. I decide to use behavioral management and allow them some control by offering choices.

“You can either come up for dinner now, or you will have to have cold cereal later.”

“Thanks, Mom,” they say and I am dismissed.

I have been defeated (and deflated) by the video god.

The problem is that video games offer some definite advantages. Kids learn how to function as a team. In many games, they have to take turns. They learn how to process information, work on eye-hand coordination and make judgments.  

Some video games are designed to teach skills in math or in reading. There is even a commercial which depicts a smiling mother telling her kids to play their V-Smile game, as though she is reminding them to make their beds. And you can’t argue that this is a visual generation. People are used to getting a lot of their news and information from the Web. The research for this article came, in part, from the Internet.

And games featuring exotic locations and unfamiliar animals may excite kids to learn more about their world.

But there is a down side to video games as well.

Time spent in front of the video screen is time not spent talking to other people.

It is hours spent sitting inside instead of outside playing participation games. Think running, sunshine, fresh air. Think ball parks and track fields. Think childhood obesity.

Think carpal-tunnel syndrome and a whole gamut of related maladies.

Think eye strain and headaches. And missed chores.

And then, there’s the violence. The debate is still on as to whether violent video games inspire violent behavior in children. That idea has surfaced as a defense in the rash of school shootings we’ve seen in the past years. But Dr. Marc Prensky, author of “Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning,” contends (in an article on the Disney website) that kids know “it’s just a game.” He thinks the games actually teach ethical behavior. “Just because you can do this in a game, should you?”

But, most psychologists include violent video games with other media in addressing the mental health problems of children. They say that the games, along with R-rated movies and TV shows inappropriate for children result in a stunted sense of empathy and compassion. And they say that the violence is especially harmful to younger children because their brains are less formed.

Dr. Jeanne Funk, a psychologist at the University of Toledo who has studied violent video-game play among young children for more than ten years, says that first- to fifth-graders who spend the most time in front of the screen are significantly more likely to see aggressive acts as normal and be less likely to express empathy.


And where do the psychological gurus lay the responsibility for regulating the games?  You guessed it. Parents.



"Parents can't just throw up their hands and think their kids' taste in video games are alien or weird. Part of the problem with violent video games is parents who don't want to go past their own comfort barriers,” Funk says.

So what do they suggest we do?

1)     Play the games with your kid and point out where the moral dilemmas are different than what you have taught them. Ask them questions about what they like about the games and listen to their responses.

2)     Limit your children’s viewing time…not just of the games. Think, they tell us, in terms of total screen time: recreational computer time (My Space, etc,) video games and television.  Once this total time exceeds two or three hours a day, it is robbing your kids of other opportunities.

3)     Learn the ratings codes for video games and pay attention to them when buying games for your children.

4)     Don’t be afraid to look through your child’s video game collection for inappropriate material. Kids borrow and trade games with their friends. Just because you didn’t buy the game for him doesn’t mean he isn’t playing it. What is inappropriate? Hey, it’s your home. This one is your call. (And don’t back down once you make the decision.)

5)     Get the computer out into family use rooms instead of tucked away in a home office or in a kid’s bedroom.

6)     Offer alternatives. This last one is harder for Beyonders. It means we have to get up off the couch as well. We—along with younger parents—tend to use the computer, the TV and the video games as baby sitters. But we could all benefit from going swimming, taking a hike, playing golf or tennis…


We have to set the limits. Make the decisions. Take the heat. And you know why? We’re the adults, and we CAN.  Kids aren’t going to thank us for it at first. But they don’t offer you praise for telling them to make their beds, brush their teeth or eat their veggies, either. They’ll survive.





EC :  Age three and up: parents will probably find nothing offensive

E:       Everyone. Age six and up. Some mild language and/or violence (usually comic)

T :     TEEN.  Thirteen and older. Violence, some strong language and sexual content

M :  Mature. Age seventeen and older. Mature themes, violence and strong language, sexual content

AO :  Adults only. Not intended for anyone under eighteen. Graphic sex and violence.

RP  :Has not been rated yet.


And, there is a plethora of terms explaining the explanations.

ALCOHOL REFERENCE …references to and/ or images of alcohol

ANIMATED BLOOD…cartoon, comic portrayal of blood

BLOOD…images of the real thing

BLOOD AND GORE…blood and/or the mutilation of body parts

CARTOON VIOLENCE…violence to cartoon characters, often the character is unharmed after the violence

COMIC VIOLENCE, COMIC MISCHIEF, COMIC HUMOR…slapstick and/ or crude humor

DRUG REFERENCE…reference to or images of drugs and drug usage

EDUTAINMENT…educational. Math games, etc.

FANTASY VIOLENCE…just what it sounds like. Violence occurring to fantasy characters in fantasy environments.

GAMBLING…Games involving betting

INTENSE VIOLENCE…Realistic blood, gore, weapons, etc.

MATURE HUMOR…bathroom jokes

MATURE SEXUAL THEMES…Partial or brief nudity, provocative material

MILD LANGUAGE… mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence and alcohol or drug use.

MILD LYRICS…The same thing in the background music

MILD VIOLENCE…mild scenes with characters in unsafe situations

NUDITY…Graphic or prolonged nudity

SEXUAL VIOLENCE…scenes depicting rape, incest, etc.

And also…if the game says “user generated input” or includes the disclaimer “game experience may change during online play,” It means the game includes a chat room or several online players and the game is determined by the input of all players so rating it is impossible. YOU CANNOT CONTROL THE CONTENT OF A GAME LIKE THIS.