Gone are the days where a television show had ratings and was therefore aired at a certain time and on a particular channel. Likewise, movies have had a rating system that allowed watchers to gauge the content of the movie. This dates back as far as 1930’s and was basically a rating on whether the movie was offensive or not. By the late 1960’s we saw ratings more in line with what we are familiar with today. G, PG, R, and X. However, how movies received their rating was very subjective and often influenced. Fun fact, it was Steven Spielberg who helped push a new rating, PG-13, when he was concerned about his Indiana Jones movies being released under the much broader PG rating.
Games have a similar rating system called ESRB that help parents understand what content may be included in the game. The current rating system is eC, E, E10+, T, M, Ao for Early Childhood, Everyone, Everyone 10+, Teen, Mature, and Adults Only. Although many of the games can moderate the content in the final product that they ship, most offer an online component and users are often greeted with the disclaimer that content in the online component could exceed the rating given the game. In other words, you can’t stop people who use the game as a platform to discuss adult content. And for anyone that has played a game online, they know that to be the case.
Movie and games are more easily managed by the developers of the content. However, today we consume content on a broad set of platforms. Content can be streamed from most devices, at any time, and from many different sources. Many of those sources are not bound by rating systems or can easily circumvent them. For parents, this opens up a new opportunity for their children to view potentially harmful content without their consent.
Case in point, a very popular gaming platform called Roblox has recently raised concerns over violent and sexual content within the platform that is geared toward young children. For those not familiar, Roblox is an online game where users, the vast majority children, create avatars and have access to hundreds of different games within a virtual world. Users in this virtual community can create their own games and make them available on the platform allowing millions of other users to play their game. Roblox has a strict no tolerance policy on allowing violent or adult content on the platform and reviews content that is uploaded to it’s platform including videos, audio, and pictures. However, they are not able to see and block everything and there are plenty of stories related to parents discovering their children being exposed to adult content as covered in a recent The Wall Street Journal article.
It is easy to blame Roblox for this, however they are not alone. Most games with online components are susceptible to this type of exposure. Minecraft, Call of Duty, Fortnite, and other popular online games suffer the same type of activity.
Short of throwing the devices into the river and yelling “go outside” (you know we all have been there), there are some steps parents can take. Many devices have built in monitoring or there are plenty of third party monitoring tools that can block or monitor for unwanted content. Additionally, limiting access, setting time limits, disabling online activity can all be ways to at least limit the exposure a child may have. Following the rating system mentioned above should also be taken into consideration when purchasing or downloading a game.
Probably the most effective method of giving your child enough freedom without being too distant is to actually join them in these games. Many parents have found success in this model. Although this doesn’t mean having to play all the time, but at least understanding the games they are playing and getting involved will help parents understand for themselves what dangers may lurk. Who knows, you might have fun in the meantime.