Should Parents Police Their Children More
November 26, 2008
The National Institute on Media and the Family, a media
watchdog group that has spent considerable time taking
the gaming industry to task for continually churning out
violent titles, turned its attention to parents
recently. It gave parents an "Incomplete" grade in its
annual report card Tuesday. According to the group,
parents aren't paying enough attention to ESRB ratings
and don't have any interest in using parental controls.
The study poses an interesting question: "Are parents
doing enough to protect their children from violent
video games?" The answer, though, isn't simple.
On one hand, we can say that parents haven't done enough
to educate themselves about video games since Mortal
Kombat and Doom became household names on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers have focused their attention on monitoring
retailers and imposing strict regulations on developers,
in the hope that these actions will help parents who
want to keep their children away from violent titles.
But how much control does a parent really have? They
can't be expected to watch their children 24 hours each
day, nor can they control a child's activity when he or
she is at a friend's house where the parents do allow
violent video games to be played.
For years, I've seen watchdog groups attack the video
game industry for "intentionally marketing to children"
and "not doing enough to stop the sale of violent video
games to children." And yet, during all those years when
the industry was getting hit from all sides, I never
heard one group specifically target parents until now.
Now that the NIMF has finally set its sights on parents,
does this mean it's time for more parents to take notice
and realize that the decisions they make related to
violent video games in the home have a major impact on
the development of their child?
I'll be the first to tell you that allowing kids to play
video games can be good for their development and
shouldn't be categorically taboo. But if this study
tells us anything, it's that simply giving kids any game
they ask for isn't what's best for any of us.
It's incumbent upon all parents to take notice of ESRB
ratings and realize that although they're not as easy to
understand as "PG" and "R", they help us gauge whether
or not a title is suitable for our children. And
although lawmakers have tried to force developers and
retailers to police the sale of games, only a child's
parents know their individual child's personality, and
only those parents can decide if a game is suitable or
In order to make the most informed decision, parents
need to be more proactive in learning about video games
and determining whether or not a specific title is OK
for their child. I realize it's easier for parents to
hear what their kids say about a game, ask the sales
clerk quickly what it's about, and buy the game for the
child without any more questions asked, but that's not
doing any of us any favors. Lazy parenting is one of the
things that spurs the creation of draconian policies on
the part of lawmakers.
I can't count the number of times I've been at a local
Gamestop when a child and his parent walk through the
door asking for a mature-rated game. On most occasions,
the parents asked their child what the game was about,
the child gave them a brief and generic answer to avoid
discussing the gore, and the parents bought the game.
In a world where children are more connected and more
informed than ever before, it's incumbent upon parents
to be just as connected (to other parents), perform the
due diligence, read GameSpot, and know at least as much
about video games as their children. Just as we read the
synopses of movies, we need to do the same with video
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