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How to Pick the Right Video Games

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You finally gave in and bought your kids a gaming console but now comes the hard part: How do you make sure that your kids are playing age-appropriate games?

There is certainly no shortage of great titles for teens and younger kids. Despite the fact that games like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed grab all the headlines, M-rated titles represent only 9% of all games that receive a rating, according to statistics released by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). But if you’re not familiar with video games, how do you distinguish the good from the bad?

When checking on the suitability of a video game, the first place to start is with the ESRB Content Rating on the front and back of every game box. The ESRB provides movie-style ratings for every published game, breaking them down into six categories, from “Early Childhood” to “Adults Only”. The back of the box will also have a short description of any questionable content, e.g. “Lyrics” or “Blood, Violence.”

If you still have any questions on the suitability of a title, you can check out the game’s Rating Summary, which can be found on the ESRB web site. Rating Summaries include a detailed explanation of the content that factored into a game’s rating, including specific examples. Since 2009, the ESRB added a mobile app for the iPhone and iPod touch, which allows you to access the Rating Summaries right from the store.

Remember that most ratings and Rating Summaries will not cover online interaction. You need to make sure you are comfortable with any component of the game that involves accessing the Internet.

Web sites such as Family Friendly Video Games and Common Sense Mediaalso provide helpful tips on choosing appropriate titles. Don’t rely on what your children tell you, or on the claim that “everyone else has it.” You are selecting games for your child to play, not someone else’s.

But by far the best way to choose a great game for your children is to get involved with their gaming activities, and even pick up a controller yourself. You’ll get to know their interests and enjoy spending quality time with them…and you might just discover that video gaming is way more fun that you thought it was!

(Most gaming consoles also have extensive parental controls, with the controls on the Xbox 360 from Microsoft probably being the most comprehensive. Check the installation manual for instructions on how to implement these controls.)

Monica Vila is TheOnlineMom -a community devoted to promoting a healthy understanding and appreciation for the positive role technology can play in a child’s life. She’s constantly chatting on Facebook here or on Twitter @TheOnlineMom where you are more than welcome to join the conversation.

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