Playing Video Games Online: A Parent-Friendly Guide

By — Video Game Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Jul 23, 2010

Our kids are growing up "connected" in a way that we could never have imagined when we were their age. Remember when we used to sit by the phone waiting for friends to call?  Those days are long gone. Staying in touch with friends is now a "constant" in our kids' lives, thanks to cell phones, texting, instant messaging, and even video chat on their computers. And that doesn't count the new "friends" they may be making on social networking sites. Well, it's no different with the video games they play, as more and more kids play the games that you purchase in retail stores over an online connection with friends and, perhaps unbeknownst to you, other gamers they have never met.  

Feel like throwing up your hands in defeat? No need to. Based on my own personal experience as a parent, there are several simple measures you can take to help ensure your children's experience online is safe and age-appropriate, particularly when it comes to playing online-enabled games. Although tools like ESRB ratings provide helpful guidance when purchasing or renting games and the parental controls empower parents by blocking access to games by rating category, the reality is that we need to be involved in more than just which games our kids play, but also how they play them, particularly when doing so online.

Talking to Your Kids About the Risks While Appreciating the Rewards of Playing Games Online

The Internet and the connectivity it brings to the experience of playing video games has significantly increased both the risks and rewards for gamers. And the more we understand about both the rewards and, especially, the risks, the better off we'll be. Generally, online-enabled video games allow players to interact and compete with one another in real-time, making for a more exciting, social and immersive experience. Many of these games offer live communication, which can include voice or text chat features. Obviously, this increases potential exposure to offensive language, harassment, and other types of verbal abuse by other players.

These possibilities concern me just as they would any parent, but I've taught my children to manage their online interactions the same way they would address problems with friends and strangers in the offline world: be cautious, be considerate, and be heard. Be cautious about what and with whom you communicate. Be considerate of others' feelings just as you would want them to be of yours. And tell someone if you experience something strange or disturbing. As parents, we all do our best to prepare our kids to deal with certain types of social interactions in the real world, and we should be making those very same efforts when it comes to the virtual world. 

Fortunately, when it comes to playing video games online, there are a number of highly effective tools available and additional measures you can take to help address uncomfortable or risky social interactions.

Look for the Online Rating Notice

With the growing popularity of online-enabled games, you will often encounter ESRB's Online Rating Notice, which states: "Online Interactions Not Rated By The ESRB." This warning means that when the game is played online, there might be exposure to content that was not considered when the rating was assigned. This Notice can be found on the front and/or back of packages of games that are online-enabled, just below the ESRB rating. The Notice also appears on-screen prior to accessing the online features in the game.

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