With 51 percent of U.S. homes owning a video game console, chances are you’re a gamer or a parent of one.
If it’s your kids who play games on a TV – or a computer or mobile platform – these following 10 tips can help you provide a safe environment for them. We also offer some money-saving advice, too.
1. Read the ratings
Just like movies, video games are rated for content by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). This tells you which games are appropriate, based on your child’s age. For example, “E” is for Everyone, “T” for Teen (13 and older) and “M” is for Mature (17 and older). Look for the label in the corner of the video game box.
2. More details online
If you need more information as to WHY a video game received a specific age rating, go to ESRB.com and type in the name of the game. You’ll not only see the rating – such as “Teen” or “Mature” – but you’ll be able to read examples of content inside the game to led to the ESRB rating. A free app for smartphones also provides this info for parents.
3. Location, location, location
Just as parents are encouraged to keep a computer in a highly-trafficked area of the home, it’s not ideal to let kids play video games behind closed doors, either, such as in a bedroom or basement, as parents can’t keep an eye on what they’re playing and/or what they’re discussing online with others. If you’ve got young kids, keep the gaming in an open and busy area of the home.
4. Join in the fun
Even though you might be embarrassed about your gaming skills – or lack thereof – parents experts say it’s a good idea to pick up the controller to make it a family activity, rather than a kids-only pastime. That way, you can better understand the appeal and content. If you don’t like this idea, at least sit and read on the couch while kids are playing beside you or talk to your kids about what they’re playing and what they like about it.
5. Password pointer
All three video game consoles offer parental controls to disable games from being played based on a specific age rating. For example, as the administrator of the console, you can set up a password and prevent “Mature”-rated games from working on the console. After all, you can’t always be home, so this extra step can prevent kids from accessing in appropriate content without your consent.
6. Time flies
Some platforms, such as Xbox 360, Windows PCs and Kindle Fire tablets also let you set up timing perimeters. If you’re concerned your kids are playing games too long, as the administrator you can set up times when they can play – such as 90 minutes a day – and kids will get a warning and countdown before it’s time to log off (which gives them enough time to save their progress). This also helps parents manage the time kids are playing games when they’re not at home.
7. Chatty Cathy
All video game consoles let gamers play online multiplayer matches. If you’re ok with kids playing online with strangers, keep in mind you can also choose for them not to talk with strangers (usually via a headset microphone). Both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 include native support for chatting between players, so your kids might be hearing profanity or other inappropriate language – though most people stick to the game (such as strategizing in a team-based shooter).
8. App it up
It comes as no surprise kids love playing mobile games – be it on a smartphone, tablet or perhaps an iPod touch – but in-game purchases can result in a huge bill at the end of the month. Remember, your kids can’t buy any in-game items without a password, so don’t give it to young kids - or change it if it’s too late (such as an iTunes password). Alternatively, you can go into the Settings and disable in-app purchases altogether.
9. Mind your money
On a relate note, gaming always gets cheaper over time, so those who buy the game when it first comes out – usually $60 for a console game – will pay more than if you wait a few months or a year. For example, Halo 4 is now $29.99. Or consider second-hand games, which can be as low as $9.99. Also, remember video game consoles drop in price, too. The PlayStation 3, for example, cost upwards of $599 when it first debuted but now you can buy a PS3 bundle for $269.99 – which is also smaller and quieter, with a 250GB hard drive (opposed to 20GB or 60GB at launch) and with a bundled game or two.
10. Bookmark the ESA
The Entertainment Software Association is an excellent resource for parents of gamers. The website offers a number of tips for parents, facts about the gaming scene, the top game sellers and video tutorials on child-proofing your video game console or personal computer. This free resource also breaks down the aforementioned ESRB age ratings for you, with explanations for each category.