Ask Dr. Rachel: The three tenets to approaching video game monitoring for children

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Will video games will make you lazy? Do you have any suggestions for what kinds of games would be great to play together with my young family? Should I let my young child watch me play games that are rated M for Mature?

Every month, our in-house scientific expert, Dr. Rachel Kowert, will address your questions about video games, video game effects and media studies, such as the ones above in her new regular column, “Ask Dr. Rachel.”

Dear Dr. Rachel, There is a lot of advice floating around out there about what we should and shouldn’t be doing when it comes to monitoring the video games our children are playing. Do you have some advice to help clarify all of the information that is out there? -Curious Dad from California

Dear Curious Dad,

When people talk to me about video games they are often looking for advice. I often suggest that parents keep the following three tenets in mind when approaching video games (or any media for that matter) in their family lives: be intentional, be present and have fun.

By intentional, I mean be aware of the content in the games that you are bringing into your home for your children. This isn’t just about age ratings but also the content itself. Here in America, the ESRB is responsible for providing age ratings and placards describing any explicit content. So if you don’t want your children playing games with suggestive themes or explicit language, you need to pay attention to the content descriptors alongside the age ratings.

While being intentional will help you be more aware of what kind of content your children are consuming, you can also be present by talking to your children about the games they play. It can be as simple as asking them what kind of games they enjoy. Being present can also include playing video games with your children. I understand not every parent wants to play video games and if you are the parent of a teenager they may not be totally open to you playing with them. However, every parent is capable of sitting in the same room while their children play. Even though it may not be the most fun way for you to spend your afternoon, it will give you a first hand look at what kinds of games your children are playing as well as give you some time to spend together. I guarantee your children will notice the effort that you are making to get involved in what interests them and (as an added bonus) you may even be find that they open up to you while playing!

For me, as a child, I very clearly remember my mom sitting and watching my brother and I play Super Mario Brothers. Sometimes she would play (and always die on what she called “the first mushroom”), but other times she would just sit in the room with us and watch us play for a bit. These are some of the best memories from my childhood and I remember feeling so happy that she was taking an interest in what we were doing.

And lastly, have fun! Games are supposed to be fun after all. And like I mentioned before, if you don’t like video games, you can definitely use them as a jumping off point for other activities that your whole family might enjoy. For instance, if your child likes sports games, maybe that means they would also enjoy going to a sporting event. Or if they like fantasy-type games like World of Warcraft maybe they’d like to go to Blizzcon. Maybe that is something you could do as a family? Or maybe you could help them make a costume for it.

Dear Dr. Rachel, What have you found are the top myths about how video games can influence behavior? -Gamer from Texas

Dear Gamer,

There are a lot of misperceptions about video games and the effects they have on their players. Trust me, I have heard it all! By far, the most popular misconceptions relate to the effects of violent video game play and video game addiction. I have found that many people believe there is a scientifically established relationship between violent video game play and violent crime, when in fact there is no research to indicate such a link. There is also strong misperception that just because someone plays a lot of video games, they are addicted to them. Disregarding the fact that there is currently an open debate as to whether or not video game addiction exists at all, in order for a behavior to be a true behavioral addiction an individual must suffer significantly in all aspects of their lives: physically, socially, psychologically, occupationally, etc., over a significant period of time (typically at least three to six months). Thus, if someone you know is playing video games over spring break, you don’t necessarily need to sound the alarms.

Dear Dr. Rachel, Could you suggest some resources for learning more about video game science? –Interested Bystander from California

Dear Interested Bystander,

Today, there are a lot of freely available resources that provide more information about video game studies and what the scientific community knows about media effects in general. Here are some of my favorites:

Of course, this is just a small selection of everything that is out there but the resources in your list will get you well on your way to learning more!

Do you have a question you would like to ask Dr. Rachel? Send your question to via twitter to @linacaruso using the hashtag #AskDrRachel and your question could be featured in next month’s column!




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