If you've been following along here at MMO Family, you'll know we keep a pretty big toolbox. What works for one family won't fit another, so we believe in offering a lot of different options. You can't possibly use every tool at once -- or maybe you could, although you probably shouldn't. You'd be one busy parent if you attempted to wield all 17 internet safety tactics at once for every child, every day. You'd never have time to actually log in and play if you ran every game screening technique known to man ... Treat all these tactics like a buffet, and load up your plate with the ideas you think fit your family's taste.
That said, we've got another big tool for the box this week: parental controls. These settings on your computer, game consoles and individual games let you limit access to game features you don't want your children to use. You can use parental controls to determine what games your kids play (and block those M-rated games borrowed from the friend at school), who they're playing them with and when they're playing them.
From World of Warcraft to Free Realms, from Wizard 101 and even Club Penguin, parental controls are becoming common in the MMOs played by today's kids. If the games your family plays don't provide them, your computer itself may offer the solution. Some computer operating systems offer built-in parental control features, and there are quite a few parental control software packages out there that will limit your child's game access (along with restricting web site access and other features).
The question is, would parental controls be useful for your family? Some parents have no use for them, preferring to monitor their children personally. They feel that parental controls represent an undesirable, arbitrary type of censorship. Some parents feel that kids are going to see and do what they're going to see and do eventually, anyway -- so why postpone the inevitable? Other families, though, find that having parental control settings take the heat cuts down on confrontations over game content and log-out times. For parents who can't always or don't want to be there to supervise every moment of their children's gaming, controls help ensure compliance with family gaming rules.
Parental controls on games are like a giant net tossed over your family. Whether they end up acting as a safety net to catch your kids when they fall or as an entangling, frustrating nuisance you can't wait to tear off, only you will know once you've given things a try.
How to set parental controls
- Mac OS X Leopard
- Microsoft Windows Vista
- Microsoft Windows XP
- Microsoft Xbox 360
- Sony PS2, PS3 and PSP
- Individual games - see your game's user guide or web site
Levels of scrutiny
A report from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Online Safety and Technology Working Group focuses on several levels of restriction for programs that block certain web sites according to age group. Of course, kids don't always fit neatly into age-specific categories, but we thought the general concept was useful as a loose guideline for both web sites and games:
- Age 7 and below White list (pre-approved sites) only
- Ages 7-12 No white list, but lots of restrictions
- Ages 13-17 Very permissive, lots of sites accessible
- Age 17+ Only porn images blocked
Remember our first MMO Family piece, when we encouraged parents to stay "logged in" to their kids' gaming interests? As an MMO gamer yourself, you may assume you've got a pretty good handle on what your kids are playing -- so let's see if you've been keeping up with the details. We ran across two short quizzes at GetGameSmart.com -- one asking parents about their kids' gaming, and another quizzing kids on what their parents are playing -- designed to keep family members in touch with what the others are playing. Give it a whirl and let us know how you do!
MMO Family offers advice on MMO gaming of the family, by the family and for the family. Connect with author Lisa Poisso on Twitter at @emused, and e-mail your questions and observations about gaming and parenting to lisa (at) massively (dot) com.