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    Video games have increasingly become a primary source of entertainment for adults and children alike. With so many games featuring themes of war, violence and death, it can be difficult for parents to find age-appropriate games for their children.

    Nicole Franklin, MD, a fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Bradley Hospital and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, offers tips on choosing age appropriate games and limiting screen time:

    Finding Age-Appropriate Games

    Determining appropriateness of a game can often be difficult as the rating system is vague and must cover many themes all with only a one-letter designation. Educating yourself on what these letters mean as well as how they are assigned is the first step.

    Asking other parents as well as staff at gaming stores can lead to accurate representation of what the game looks like and how realistic the play may be.

    Perhaps the best way to determine how appropriate a game is to play it yourself, or watch your child play the game. If at anytime you feel that the themes are developmentally inappropriate for your child, remove the game and explain the reasons to the child. Let them ask questions and explain, at a level that they can understand, why they cannot play that game. It is also wise to have replacements in mind and let them chose from games you have deemed appropriate.

    Screen Time

    The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one hour of "screen time" per day. This screen time could include watching television or playing video games. It is important to set this limit and maintain it. Allowing the child to choose which activity they want to engage in makes them feel that they have more control.

    "Live" Interaction

    More and more video games can be played via a "live" format, where children can interact with friends online using a headset to engage in multiplayer games. Even with this "live" interaction these games are a socially isolating activity as there is no opportunity to learn to read facial expressions and social cues. Encouraging other social activities outside of the game play can assist with this crucial aspect of social development.

    Limit Playing of Violent Games

    It has been shown that playing violent video games can lead to increased aggressive behaviors and fearfulness in short term, therefore it is important to limit playing time. A recent study showed that this risk was higher in boys as well as in those with an aggressive temperament, low moral values and lack of empathy for others. Situational factors such as a living in a violent family also increased the risk for aggression after viewing violent video games.

    With all of these factors it can be hard to determine what is okay. Following these guidelines will help:

    • Monitor what your child is playing or watching.
    • Be open to questions about your reasons for not letting them play a game that perhaps their friends can play.
    • Play with them. You will learn about the game, and spend shared play time with your child.

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