Are You Ratings Ready? Video Game Edition by Mike Nappa

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Your preteen wants to play a new video game at a friend’s house—but is that game appropriate for your child? How will you know? Here’s how you can find out:


How are Video Games Rated for Content?

Most video games are given a third-party rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). This rating is intended to provide “objective information” to help parents make informed choices about the games their kids play.

An ESRB rating has three parts:

  1. An age-appropriate category designation,
  2. Content descriptors, and
  3. Information about the “interactive elements” of a game, for instance, whether or not a game shares a user’s location or other personal information.


What are the Basic Ratings Categories?

  • EC – Early Childhood. No objectionable content, and a game that was created specifically for young children.
  • Everyone. Fun for the whole family. Cartoon-style violence at best, and generally no profanity or suggestive themes included.
  • Everyone 10+. Generally appropriate for preteens and older. May contain mild violence or mild language, but overall very tame.
  • Teen. This is the gaming equivalent of a PG-13 movie rating. According to ESRB, a game with this rating “May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.”
  • Mature. A video game comparable to an R-rated film. A game with this rating is likely to include some combination of graphic violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and strong profanity.
  • Adults Only. Consider this the NC-17 rating of video games. ESRB describes these games this way, “May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and/or gambling with real currency.”


Where Can I Find More?

A detailed explanation of the ESRB rating system, including specific content descriptors and interactive element designations is online at:

Mike Nappa is an author of more than 50 books. He is also the founder of Nappaland Literary Agency and a former book acquisitions editor. He is featured each month in ParentLife magazine and in Trends and Truth Online on the ParentLife blog.

Real Life Solutions: Video Gaming

mintle03(2).jpgWe are proud to have Dr. Linda Mintle in ParentLife each month answering questions submitted from readers. To submit a question for Dr. Mintle, e-mail it to and include "? for Dr. Mintle" on the subject line. This month we have an extra Q&A from Dr. Mintle we wanted to share.

Q: My 10-year-old son would play video games all day if I let him. Every time I tell him to put down the game, he says, “But I am in the middle of a game and can’t stop.” I feel like pulling out my hair and wish I had never given in to buying him a gaming system.

A: Don’t pull out your hair! You are more powerful than a 10-year-old armed with video games. Instead of buyer’s remorse, teach him how to use those games responsibly.

Most video games have a save button that allows the player to quit and then pick up the game again with no lost action. Your son’s excuse to keep playing is just that—an excuse. But first, you need an established time limit for play before he ever turns on a game. Experts recommend that screen time not exceed one to two hours in any given day. That includes all screens (TV, computer, gaming systems, and mobile devices).

Once you have established the amount of playing time, make sure he does not have the gaming system, TV, or computer in his room unsupervised. You cannot monitor screen time if you cannot see when and where he is using screens.

Also, review the content of games. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that most games have common themes that are promoted. You should be screening for the killing of people or animals; the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol; criminal behavior; disrespect for authority and the law; sexual exploitation; violence toward women; racial, sexual, and gender stereotypes; foul language; obscenities; and obscene gestures.

Finally, remember you are the boss and decide the rules of usage. If he does not abide by the time frame, give one warning and then remove the device as a time-out from play. Loss of the privilege is usually enough punishment to keep a child in line with the established time frame.

For video and game reviews:
Raising Healthy Kids in an Unhealthy World by Linda Mintle (Nelson, 2008), chapter on media usage

Do you have a video gamer in your family? How do you handle time limits or screening games?