Gaming often also involves downloading, but games are a whole different story. Some games are free, some are not. Some are rated, some aren't. Some require subscriptions; others, a one-time fee. Some games have side chat rooms (many with voice chat), most free games ask for an email address (never a good idea for a kid), and all multiplayer games require screen names or character names (called gamertags). Games range from poker (big with high school kids and very addictive and expensive) to multiplayer shooter games to innocent arcade games. There is absolutely no way around it: With games, adults have to be involved. Time spent playing games — especially online and multiplayer games — now rivals the amount of time kids watch TV. Just because you don't play them doesn't mean your kid isn't.
Free games can be fun and pass the time. Online games can build communities and teach competition. Some games are educational and sharpen reading, math, and decision-making skills.
Privacy, safety, and age-appropriate content are all a concern with games. Also, games are highly addictive time consumers. They're built so that your kids either want more or can't get far in a short period of time. This will frustrate your attempts to limit game time — but game limits are a must, as they teach kids how and when to say "enough." Many online games don't carry ratings. Others do, but require some poking around to find them. Many games offer contact with strangers. Even though this is done through a screen or gamer name, it's still contact. There's also enough bullying done in gaming that these cyber villains have their own name: griefers.
Sex, violence, language, and anti-social behavior are common elements for many games. Part of this world's appeal — especially for young boys — lies in the edginess of its content. A first-person shooting game or high-stakes poker match gives gamers a jolt of sensation. And all these games are totally addictive. They will chew up your kids' days and nights if you don't intervene. And on top of all that, games can be expensive, their privacy levels vary widely, and they can model behavior you never want to see in your kid.
- Do your homework. Know the game ratings. Know what games your kids play. Find out ratings where they exist.
- Set time limits — before they go online
- Enforce privacy rules. Tell your kids never to give out their email addresses when they sign in for a game and never to tell a password. Make sure that no personal email, identifying name, phone number, school, or address or information slips through to a stranger in game play. Double check your kid's gametag and screen names (there may be several ...).
- Know who your kid is playing with by observing game play. Monitor game chats and messages. Show your kids how to mute or block messages they don't like and how to report offenders to game administrators.
- Don't let younger kids use voice chat.
- Teach your kids how to shut down cyber bullies by alerting you, the game company, or your Internet service provider. Make sure you tell them not to engage with or respond to a bully.