Video games and children's safety

PEGI gamblingAre your children or teens permanently gaming, either online or on a console? One in three people in the UK plays video games, making interactive entertainment for many children (and adults) an everyday activity, like listening to music or watching TV. 

The main issue for parents with gaming-mad children (or just occasional dabblers) is that the devices which play games can connect to the internet and therefore can be played online.

This means the same online safety rules that apply to internet use, such as social networking, should also apply to gaming ie your children should not disclose any personal information, such as their age or whereabouts, to strangers.

It also means you need to get a handle on what your kids are up to at other people's houses - there's not much point in you imposing stringent controls at home, if they're playing wildly age-inappropriate games at friends' houses. 

Play-safe gaming tips for parents

  • Engage - find out what your children are playing, and who with. 
  • Lighten up - games should be played in well-lit rooms.
  • Take breaks - some games can be especially intense, so regular breaks are vital for healthy gameplay. Encourage children to take regular breaks, at least five minutes every 45-60 minutes. 

The video games trade body, UKIE, has play-safe gaming advice and the Safer Internet Centre has a leaflet outlining online safety tips for parents

If the whole gaming thing is a bit of a mystery to you, here's a quick run-down. If it's not, it's still worth checking that you're clear about the different ratings and parental controls for games. 

PEGI age ratings and parental controls

"My nine-year-old son wants to play games like Call of Duty. We just say no. And no again. And no way. And ask again and you won't even HAVE a Playstation!" Buda

Every game published in the UK has an age rating displayed on its packaging. The PEGI (Pan-European Games Information) rating on a game confirms that it's suitable for a certain age group and above. The age rating is not a recommended difficulty level of a game.

PEGI labels also provide icons describing the content. These icons indicate the type of content in the game: drug references, bad language, sexual, violent, discrimination or fear. So if you're buying a game for children under the age of 18, check out the age rating.

PEGI age 3 PEGI age 3 PEGI age 7 PEGI age 7 PEGI age 12
PEGI age 12 PEGI age 16 PEGI age 16 PEGI- age 16  PEGI age 18

PEGI bad language

PEGI discrimination

PEGI drugs

PEGI fear

PEGI gambling

PEGI nudity

PEGI online

PEGI sex

PEGI violence


Gaming devices

Consoles: These plug directly into a TV - among the most popular consoles are the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3). Half of UK households own a console of some type. Games can be bought in shops or, increasingly, downloaded directly to the console. All consoles are capable of connecting to the internet and many games are played online with other human players.

"To be honest, a lot of Xbox games are aimed at an older market. PS3 seems to have more things for young children. Lego games are also very good. My boys like Star Wars, which is available on Xbox." karmabeliever

Handheld consoles: These are small consoles whose primary function is to play games. Two popular handheld consoles are the Nintendo DS and the Sony Playstation Portable (PSP). Handheld consoles can be used to access the internet wirelessly.

Mobile and app games: Mobile and other handheld games are played on smartphones and other handheld devices such as the iPod Touch or iPad. Games can be downloaded as apps directly to the device. Some mobile games are free but players can purchase added functionality. However, these functions can be deactivated, usually through the device or phone settings.

PC games: These are games that are bought on a disc or downloaded, and played on a personal computer. Many PC games make use of the internet, including Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, where gamers interact together in virtual communities.

"Children increasingly push the boundaries on games, usually exploiting the fact that their parents often don't know what the content is like." TottWriter

Web-based games: These games are played directly through unique websites and often do not require any kind of additional software or hardware to play other than a web browser, keyboard and mouse. These sites can offer a single game or they can offer hundreds of different games in the same place. Many of the games are free, although some have paid-for components.  

Take control

All video games consoles offer parental controls so that you can lock down just what, how and how long your children play games. All parental controls allow parents to limit gameplay by PEGI age-ratings.

The parental controls are easy to set and can be found with the consoles menu systems. UKIE has guides to applying parental controls for each of the main controls and Windows. And Xbox, Nintendo and Playstation all have links to further reading about parental controls.

Last updated: 5 months ago