Three Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Video Games for the Holiday Season

Written by Patricia E. Vance, President, ESRB
November 15, 2019

Finding the perfect holiday gifts for loved ones can be stressful, especially when it comes to your kids. Fortunately, if you’re looking for the latest and greatest video games or plan on buying a new game console, we’ve got you covered with three things every parent should know.

Choose the Right Games for Your Family

Knowing which games are appropriate for your children is easier than you may think. If your child has asked for a specific game, a good first step is to conduct a search for the ESRB-assigned age and content ratings on esrb.org or our rating search app for iOS and Android by entering the game’s title. With our three-part rating system, you can quickly understand if a game is appropriate for your family. You can also review a game’s Rating Summary, which provides even more detail.

If you don’t know what to buy, your best bet is to visit your local game retailer and ask a store clerk what’s hot or not, and then check the rating information on the front and back of the game’s box.  You can also look up the game’s Rating Summary on your mobile device right from the store.

Still not sure? You can read reviews from game enthusiast websites, and watch gameplay clips on sites like Mixer, Twitch, and YouTube.

Set Parental Controls

Since you can’t always be around when your kids are playing video games, with ParentalTools.org, ESRB has made it easier than ever to help you manage what your kids can play, for how long, with whom, and how much they can spend.

For example, some parents may be comfortable with their teens diving into Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (rated M for Mature 17+), but that may not work for every family or for every child in the household. You can manage which games can be played (by specific family member on certain devices) by the ESRB-assigned age rating to ensure that your kids don’t play a game they may not be ready for.

Games like Fortnite (rated T for Teen 13+) and Minecraft (rated E10+ for Everyone 10+) can provide dozens of hours of gameplay with friends or alone. Setting play-time limits will help you make sure game time doesn’t interfere with homework, chores, or other obligations.

Speaking of playing with friends, many games enable players to play with each other online. While playing online can be a great team-building experience, you may not be comfortable with your kids playing with strangers. Thankfully, parental controls can manage (or block) chat features or let you approve friends.

Many platforms enable players to purchase new games via download and some games also offer in-game items for purchase. Setting controls to manage spending money on game or in-game purchases will make sure you don’t have any surprise charges to your account or credit card.  If you want to learn more about the different types of in-game purchases, we have you covered.

You can find ESRB’s step-by-step instructions on how to activate the parental controls on your device(s) at ParentalTools.org. A great time to set controls is before you even give your kids the new system. You can set up the console, download any necessary updates, and set the parental controls before you even wrap the box!

Have a Family Meeting and Set House Rules

Agreeing on some house rules for video games and devices is a great way to make sure your kids’ interactive experiences are appropriate. Start by calling a family meeting to discuss these topics, and make sure everyone is on the same page regarding how they can engage with games and apps.

It’s not always easy to navigate these conversations, especially if you have some older kids that have been enjoying rule-free gaming sessions for some time, but we have a helpful Family Discussion Guide to get the conversation started. You can go over what games are appropriate for which of your children, explain why, and highlight some time limits for every day of the week. Further, you may want to set rules about with whom your kids can play online and how much money (if any) they can spend online to download new games or make in-game purchases.

Getting the house rules in writing is only the first part of the process. Everyone (yes, even you, parents) needs to abide by the rules! And they should be adapted as your kids mature or other factors come into play. Parental controls can help enforce whatever rules you establish.

Make sure you keep an eye on ESRB’s Twitter and Facebook for more advice. It’s never been easier to manage what, when, and how your kids engage with video games, all it takes is a little time and attention!

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