FROM THE SUPERINTENDENT’S SEAT
Make Video Games
a Family Experience
In this day and age, modern technology has been growing by leaps and bounds, and nowhere is this more evident than in our own homes. Many of us are surfing the web on our cell phones, watching Blu-ray discs on a high-definition television or listening to music through an iPod. Video games are no exception, and if you have children, you’ve probably witnessed this evolution firsthand through state-of-the-art gaming systems like the Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or PlayStation portable (PSP). We sure have come a long way since Pong, Space Invaders and Super Mario Brothers.
Video games and systems are far more complex than ever before, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily anything to be frightened of. In fact, many experts agree that some video games can offer lots of benefits to kids. According to the Media Awareness Network (MNet), a carefully selected video game can: provide a fun and social form of entertainment, encourage teamwork and cooperation when played with others, make kids feel comfortable with technology, increase children's self-confidence and self-esteem as they master games, develop skills in reading, math and problem-solving and improve hand-eye coordination and motor skills.
While there are plenty of potential benefits, many legitimate concerns about video games have also arisen over the years, including the time that kids spend playing them, the physical effects of an inactive lifestyle, and the violent or sexist content of many games. However, playing video games can be a positive family experience if you understand the issues involved, choose games wisely and control the amount of time your children spend in front of the screen.
The first step is to familiarize yourself with the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating system—a series of letter grades that provide information about the age-appropriateness of the game as well as content descriptors that warn about violence; sexual or suggestive material; strong language; use or depiction of drugs, alcohol and tobacco; as well as gambling in the game. The ESRB provides an informational guide for parents about choosing age-appropriate games, setting up parental controls, and making sure their child’s video game experience is safe and secure. You can access this guide through their website at www.esrb.org.
MNet also recommends that parents do not ban video game playing outright, as it is an important part of kids' social lives. Instead, establish rules for how much time per day your kids can play games and stick to them (permit game playing only after homework is completed, or only on the weekend, for example). Some parents may choose to put limits on how long a gaming session can last. Keep in mind that many games take a certain amount of time to finish, but many new systems also allow you to save games and pick them up again later. Sit down and play with your kids, particularly if they have a new game and you're unsure of the content, and talk to them from a young age about why you find certain video game content objectionable. Finally, remember that while, as with most new toys, a new game may completely consume your kids, the novelty will pass and other pursuits will eventually hold more appeal.#
Dr. Carole G. Hankin is the Superintendent of Schools, Syosset Central School District, Long Island, NY.