“E” for Everyone – @OKtoPlay

We are a family of four and home to an Xbox 360, Microsoft Kinect, Wii, Nintendo DS, Nintedo DSi XL, and of course, two smart phones. There are currently 22 apps on my phone – 10 of which are games (9 the kids chose).

At 10 and 6, my kids love to play video games. And, for the most part, it’s a non-issue in our house. They are busy with school and activities, which means little time for games during the week. However, if they want to play for a couple hours with their friends on the weekend, I’m totally okay with that. It’s all about choices and balance.

For all my coolness, I do get a bit twitchy this time of year. With the holidays around the corner, I can see the avalanche of stuff coming our way – expensive gadgets and games that are often given before the kids are old enough to enjoy them, and even worse, riddled with unexpected questionable content.

In my haste last December, I suggested the game Dance Central to accompany our new Kinect. Great game, indeed. It gets your heart moving and my kids love seeing their dance moves replayed on the screen during the “free dance” sequence. Plus, you can compete with one another. It’s pure fun.

But, there’s still that twinge of “oh no – what will we see next” when we play. The virtual dancers are clad in gangster wear (guys) or short-shorts (girls). Plus, there’s a few moves that let’s say, should be saved for the college party scene. If only I had taken 5 minutes to check the game rating, I would have seen that it had earned a “T” for “Teen” before suggesting it as a family gift.

ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) is a non-profit, self-regulatory body that rates video games based on age, as well as provides content descriptors to indicate what triggered the rating (e.g., suggestive content, language, violence). ESRB's mobile app (free) is a gem. Instead of standing there gape-mouthed and paralyzed, trying to assess the "appropriateness" of a game, I can instantly "call up" the ESRB app for a rating and content summary. Voila! ESRB takes the surprise factor out of an expensive purchase.

Additionally, ESRB is an invaluable resource for protecting my kids online. The website includes step-by-step instructions for how to set parental controls on all the major gaming consoles, plus handhelds. ESRB is also actively involved in COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act) – key legislation that dictates the rules relating to kids and the Internet.

The ESRB app is an invaluable addition to my mobile toolkit. No doubt – I’ll be one of “those moms” at the holiday parties, whipping out my iPhone to demo the ESRB app. I’ll call it “Guess the Rating” and it will be a hit among the mothers of suburbia.

(Note: Michele recently helped to coordinate blogger outreach with Patricia Vance, president of ESRB, on behalf of Zebra Partners. The above post reflects her uncensored and passionate views of ESRB’s mission to educate & empower parents.)

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