Wednesday 26 November 2014

How do you know which movies and electronic games are age-appropriate for your kids?

Please note; this is NOT a sponsored post; just something I thought might come in handy when we're all casting about for ideas for gifts this Christmas...

As an involved / engaged / helicopter (delete as you see fit) parent, I like to understand what it is my children are watching or playing when they're staring at their electronic devices.  However, researching every single online purchase that my children want to make - and properly understanding the plots and techniques etc that various games use - is something that I simply don't have the time (or, if I'm honest, the enthusiasm) to do.

Boy #2 came home from school a couple of weeks back lobbying to be able to download a new game on the ipad.

"Everyone has it, Mum" he told me.  Hmmm.  I had never heard of this game before.  "Define 'everyone'", I said.  "Well, M has it.  And S.  And O."  Okaaay.  All boys with previous form in the area of inappropriate / excessive internet and electronic gaming use, I noted.  I decided to ask Boy #1 if he knew of this game.

He did.  "That is definitely not the right age group for Boy #2"  he pronounced firmly, family policeman that he is (is it just me or do a lot of oldest siblings - myself included - fall into that category?)  "I've seen it and I don't think it's appropriate AT ALL."

'Appropriate'; that lovely multi-tasking word.  The Potski family use it when certain people Talk Too Loudly In Church, when they Scream At The Top Of Their Voice that their socks hurt as we walk too school , when Bottom Conversations become Too Personal, and - increasingly often - when looking into the content of various forms of electronic entertainment.

Boy #2 was sure his older brother was being too cautious.  "It's fine, Mum.  Let's just try it and see..."  We've done that in the past with disastrous results, so I wasn't convinced that in the case it was the best way to go.

Luckily, I didn't need to try the 'suck it and see' method of trial.  Instead, I was able to pass the buck on this decision to an online resource we use frequently, and who's decision is seen as final by my two occasionally biddable children.  Commonsense Media is a site that gives reviews and age ratings for almost any web-sourced content that your children may be interested in, and which - crucially - gives you an instant and easily accessible list of the reasons why those ratings have been awarded.  For example, this is their review of World of War Craft (which they rate as Age 15):

'Parents need to know that this game is incredibly fun to play and spectacular in terms of its beauty and creativity, but it requires adult involvement to be a positive and safe experience for teens. There is violence, some of it bloody, references to alcohol, and occasionally subtle sexual innuendo. Most importantly, parents need to know that this game is conducted online and may involve chatting with unknown players. Also, parents should set time limits for gameplay: With endless exploration and no clearly defined levels, it is easy to get hooked.'

Whereas this is what they have to say about Minecraft (rated Age 8):

'Parents need to know that Minecraft is an open-ended, exploration and creation focused environment. One of the best-selling, independently developed and published video games,Minecraft's official release was in November 2011 following a lengthy beta test phase that attracted millions of players. Players can create items and buildings from scratch using materials they harvest from the world around them. There is no story, but players will encounter aggressive monsters they can fight using swords and bows. Graphics are extremely blocky, and there is no blood or gore, but the creatures can be a bit scary when they moan or appear seemingly out of nowhere. Parents should note that this game has a thriving online community hosted by private, non-moderated servers. This means players could encounter offensive content in the form of profane text messages and suggestively shaped player-created structures, although players don't have to engage in online activity to enjoy the game.'

So back in Potski Mansions, we input the name of the game in question into the CommonSense Media search engine, and sure enough, Boy #1 was correct; this game was rated as Age 12.   Boy #2 (currently aged 8) was disappointed but was willing to toe the party line.


Although there might have been some reprisal-instigated wrestling that ensued when my back was turned, but hey, I can't be an involved / engaged / helicopter parent all the time...



  1. Ah. My favourite topic. I use common sense media often. It appears however, that many parents do not. They follow the 'Well they asked for the game so I got it for them' approach. My children (10 and 9) know children who play Grand Theft Auto. Now bear in mind that the latest upgrade apparently allows you to have first person player (in other you are doing it rather than watching it) sex with a prostitute (complete with porn noises) followed by shooting her in the head, it frankly makes the mind boggle that parents think this is ok. But you know what, they would probably be horrified if they bothered to take a look. But they don't. Their offspring then tell other children about these awesome games and so the nagging spirals. I seriously, seriously hope that any of the kids at our school who have GTA are completely unaware of this new option. When my kids come home asking about whether it's ok to shoot a prostitute or what a prostitute is, I may be having words.

  2. A very useful post. I am going to check out the website next time the boys ask me for a game-- luckily they haven't moved on much beyond Angry Birds and Minecraft, due to having only a 1st generation iPad which can't support all the new games! I think some of the problem comes when there are older siblings: I remember going to someone's house in America, and their teenage son sitting there playing a very violent zombie game. No attempt to turn it off because there were younger siblings around.

  3. I love Common Sense Media. Have been meaning to post about it for ages (you beat me to it). Great for checking out films as well as games.

    I find that, because it's American-based, the ratings are more sensitive than I am regarding language and nudity, and much less sensitive than I am regarding guns and violence. But I can factor that in fairly easily. I think it's quite fun that they have a rating by parents, and a rating by children.

    I'm lucky, in that my boys only want to play Xbox sports games: FIFA, cricket and NBA. It seems to be a bit limited, to spend all their time on just these, especially as 90% of the time is FIFA. However, I'm certainly not pushing them to expand their repertoire. Lots of their friends play GTA, so why would I want to go there?

    It's hard, as a parent, to check things out. As you say, there's the time factor, the enthusiasm factor, and quite frankly also the competence factor. I'm sure that a game could be got past me, by showing me only certain levels, and leaving me in ignorance about what other levels or features can be added in.

    Having been a bit smug about my boys only wanting sports games, I must confess to having purchased The Simpsons Hit and Run for 13-yo's birthday tomorrow. It looks ok, though, on Common Sense media, and is meant to be a bit of a parody on GTA, which I like. Always good to encourage a healthy critical faculty (which is what parody is, surely) about the less pleasant aspects of the culture you live in.

  4. I saw a cinema ad for GTA the other day, and I was horrified. I knew it was bad, but I hadn't realised how dark and sinister it really is. Why on earth are parents letting it under the radar?

  5. Parodies are good, I agree - and yes, I use CSM for films too. In fact I just used it to check out the original Jurassic Park to see if that's suitable for my boys (came up as Age 12. Not just yet, then...)

  6. As Iota says above NVG, it's great for movies too. Which in this instantly accessible online streaming world we live in, can come in very handy.

  7. I honestly think that most parents have no idea what their kids are exposed to in these games - hence my post. Had a hilarious / scary conversation with a friend the other day when she said they only started to pay attention when they asked their then 6 year old son to stop playing a particular game and he replied 'In a moment, Mum. I just need to shoot this ho first...' (Needless to say, that game is no longer played in their house).

  8. Ugh this is a very tricky subject, no matter how hard you try to supervise games at home you have no control over what the kids end up playing at their friends' houses where parents have different standards / values / rules. Good luck with figuring it out!

  9. You're right, of course. All I want to do is try and keep a lid on it whilst they're home - and younger - and then I just have to hope that when they're elsewhere and / or older, they can decide for themselves what is and isn't appropriate. (And maybe encourage a few more parents to actually be aware of which games their kids are playing in the meantime, rather than burying their heads in the sand. Although I appreciate, that last one is a pretty big ask...)


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