Video Games - Special Issues for Young Children

Throughout the elementary years, parents are the main gatekeepers for their children. As such, they need to be actively involved in their children’s video game playing – selecting the games, managing how much time children spend playing, and talking to them about the values in the games they like.

Parents of young children should be aware of the following concerns:

  • Young children have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy, which makes them more vulnerable to the effects of media violence. They may become more aggressive and fearful if they are exposed to high levels of violence in video games.
  • The violence portrayed in video games usually has no consequences, and is often there for the sake of humour.
  • Children have easy access to violent computer and video games. While the video game industry generally does a good job of preventing youth from buying these games,[1] research has nevertheless shown that they play them often. [2] As well, children can easily access violent or offensive mini-games on popular sites such as Newgrounds and eBaumsworld.
  • The entertainment industry markets violent media to young children. In 2009, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report that exposed how media industries target young children with violent entertainment meant for adults. According to the FTC, almost every video-game company they investigated marketed violent M-rated games to teens, particularly through print ads in popular gaming magazines and on websites popular with children or teens. As well, children were targeted through partnerships with convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, such as the cross-promotion that put Halo 3 merchandise in 7-Eleven and Burger King. [3]
  • Toys based on action characters from games meant for mature players are often marketed to young children. Halo, a violent video game rated for players 17 and older, has spawned action figures marketed to children under 8 years old.
  • Children’s ideas of what it means to be male and female can be negatively influenced by stereotypes found in media. Many video games are designed by males for males, and may lead young people to hold perceptions of gender roles that mirror how men and women are depicted in video games. [4]
  • As noted above, many games popular among youth are either played online or downloaded from sites such as Newgrounds and eBaum’s World. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating system does not cover such games.
  • User-created content is an increasing part of today’s games. This means that even if the original game has a rating appropriate for your child, it may be possible to download additional content that is not.
  • Games often have a multiplayer component which allows children to play with other people over the Internet. These multiplayer games usually permit conversation between players which is typically un-moderated.


[1] Kuchera, Ben. Harder for kids to buy M-rated video game than see R-rated movie. Ars Technica, Sept 17 2010.
[2] Rideout, Victoria et al. Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-olds. Kaiser Family Foundation, March 2005.
[3] Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children: A Sixth Follow-Up Review of Industry Practices in the Motion Picture, Music Recording & Electronic Game Industries. Federal Trade Commission, December 2009.
[4] Dill, Karen and Kathryn Thill. Dill & Thill Video game characters and the socialization of gender roles: Young people’s perceptions mirror sexist media depictions, Sex Roles, 2007