Teens and Multi-player GamingMary O. Foley
Video games have come a long way since Pac-Man. Today’s games are more sophisticated and multi-dimensional than ever, and the Internet allows players to play with fellow gamers from around the world.
But this brave new world of video games has brought with it new risks for teens. The newest games are chock-full of awe-inspiring graphics, but many are graphically violent as well. Multi-player interactive games allow players to take over the game’s protagonist and control its behavior. All too often, the object of popular games like World of Warcraft or GunZ is to kill the opponent in the most gruesome way possible.
In addition, new technologies like Xbox Live allow Xbox users to attach their unit to the Internet and, with headset and microphone, talk to other gamers in real-time. If played without privacy controls, uncensored language or “acting out” by other gamers -- even on games rated “E” for everyone -- can quickly change the nature of the gaming experience.
The risks of online gaming
Studies by groups such as the National Coalition of Television Violence have found a negative link between media violence and children’s behavior. Studies funded by leading video-game makers dispute these findings. But a rash of highly publicized tragedies, such as the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 and the Columbine shootings in 1999 has fueled concerns about rising youth violence.
There is also the risk of divulging too much information to a fellow gamer the teen doesn’t know, such as name and address, and thus putting their personal safety at risk. The gamer your teen thinks he knows could be a dangerous individual. If your teen lets the wrong details slip, a sexual predator, or a cyberbully angry over losing a game that’s gone too far, could easily find their way to your front door.
And lastly, video games are designed to be addictive, says Dr. Dave Greenfield, a West Hartford, Conn.-based psychologist, founder of the Center for Internet Behavior, and author of Virtual Addiction. “These games actually interfere with the balance of daily life. They change kids’ perceptions of violence, they increase the threshold for stimulation, and decrease their interest in the subtleties of human interaction,” he warns. “The number-one problem I see in teens and young adults who play these games is failing academic performance.”
How to protect your kids
Unlike younger children, teens who really want to play these games will find a way around parental-control filters. So what’s a parent to do? The following are some practical tips to make sure your teen is safe:
1. Know which games your child plays Review all games before your kids play them, and only keep computers in the open areas in your home. “Never, never, never let children have a computer in their rooms,” Greenfield says.
2. Set limits on screen time Limit the amount of time your teen spends playing video games -- this includes games on all kinds of screens, from computers to televisions to portable devices. Don’t let them jump from screen to screen, says Greenfield.
3. Keep your teen active Keep some balance in your teen’s life by making sure she is involved in activities that take her away from video gaming. This includes opportunities like sports, social and religious activities, hobbies, a job, or volunteer work.
4. Talk to your teen about privacy Make sure your teenager understands the risks of giving out any personal information to other gamers. Make sure your teen knows to never offer or agree to a face-to-face meeting with another gamer or person they met online.
5. Insist on Xbox Live Controls If your child must play Xbox Live and similar games, make sure to mute the game’s audio. This will prevent exposure to foul language, possible verbal abuse, or the temptation to blurt out a phone number or other personal information.
6. Be open to listening to your child Tell your children they can ask you about problems or concerns they are having about gamers they encounter.
7. Encourage your teen to become a Teenangel A Teenangle is a teen who is carefully trained by the FBI and other Internet safety experts to help identify and report unsafe situations on the Internet. For more on the Teenangel program, which is sponsored by #IF($EnableExternalLinks)WiredSafety.c#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTom#ELSEWired Safety#ENDIF, contact #IF($EnableExternalLinks)TeenAngels.o#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTrg#ELSETeen Angels#ENDIF.
Dr. Greenfield believes the most important thing parents can do is to make sure teens are given healthy alternatives to computer use. But parents have to be willing to work at arranging these other activities. “Let’s face it -- the computer is a very easy babysitter,” he says.
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