The National Institute on Media and the Family, a media watchdog group that has spent considerable time taking the gaming industry to task for continually churning out violent titles, turned its attention to parents recently. It gave parents an "Incomplete" grade in its annual report card Tuesday. According to the group, parents aren't paying enough attention to ESRB ratings and don't have any interest in using parental controls.
The study poses an interesting question: "Are parents doing enough to protect their children from violent video games?" The answer, though, isn't simple.
On one hand, we can say that parents haven't done enough to educate themselves about video games since Mortal Kombat and Doom became household names on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers have focused their attention on monitoring retailers and imposing strict regulations on developers, in the hope that these actions will help parents who want to keep their children away from violent titles.
But how much control does a parent really have? They can't be expected to watch their children 24 hours each day, nor can they control a child's activity when he or she is at a friend's house where the parents do allow violent video games to be played.
For years, I've seen watchdog groups attack the video game industry for "intentionally marketing to children" and "not doing enough to stop the sale of violent video games to children." And yet, during all those years when the industry was getting hit from all sides, I never heard one group specifically target parents until now.
Now that the NIMF has finally set its sights on parents, does this mean it's time for more parents to take notice and realize that the decisions they make related to violent video games in the home have a major impact on the development of their child?
I'll be the first to tell you that allowing kids to play video games can be good for their development and shouldn't be categorically taboo. But if this study tells us anything, it's that simply giving kids any game they ask for isn't what's best for any of us.
It's incumbent upon all parents to take notice of ESRB ratings and realize that although they're not as easy to understand as "PG" and "R", they help us gauge whether or not a title is suitable for our children. And although lawmakers have tried to force developers and retailers to police the sale of games, only a child's parents know their individual child's personality, and only those parents can decide if a game is suitable or not.
In order to make the most informed decision, parents need to be more proactive in learning about video games and determining whether or not a specific title is OK for their child. I realize it's easier for parents to hear what their kids say about a game, ask the sales clerk quickly what it's about, and buy the game for the child without any more questions asked, but that's not doing any of us any favors. Lazy parenting is one of the things that spurs the creation of draconian policies on the part of lawmakers.
I can't count the number of times I've been at a local Gamestop when a child and his parent walk through the door asking for a mature-rated game. On most occasions, the parents asked their child what the game was about, the child gave them a brief and generic answer to avoid discussing the gore, and the parents bought the game.
In a world where children are more connected and more informed than ever before, it's incumbent upon parents to be just as connected (to other parents), perform the due diligence, read GameSpot, and know at least as much about video games as their children. Just as we read the synopses of movies, we need to do the same with video games.