Call of Duty: Black Ops (dismembered limbs, obscene language, torture) and Hitman: Absolution (can you really absolve a hit man?) - $13.6 billion is spent annually in North America so that more than 210 million folks can play video games like these. Many of those players are younger than 18, and that's, you know, way bad for kids and teens.
We don't want to get all fuddy-duddy. We're fans of video games that get kids and adults moving, like Dance, Dance Revolution, and interactive sports, and of those that keep seniors' cognitive skills, memory and muscles strong. Groove to Guitar Hero, Gramps! But violent games harm young, developing brains by fueling aggressive behavior, dulling empathy and causing sleep problems.
And if you think you know what's going on with your kids, think again. Most parents say they're pretty sure of what their kids are doing online, but 50 percent of kids report having inappropriate-age-rated games ("M" for "mature" and "AO" for "adults only") among their often-played favorites.
A few guidelines:
- Limit game and TV time combined to two hours a day (and not every day). The American Academy of Pediatrics says more time doubles the risk for attention problems.
- Play the video games to make sure you agree with the Entertainment Software Rating Board ratings: EC (early childhood); E (everyone); E10 (those 10 and up); T (teens); M (mature, 17 and up); and AO (adults only).
- Spend time together doing physical activities, which reduces stress and improves impulse control, and volunteering for projects that help (not annihilate) people who are different from you and your kids.