- NEW YORK - If Johnny
and Susie come to the dinner table looking like little bug-eyed zombies
- or don't come at all - it might be time to re-visit the house rules governing
computer and video game use.
- A recent study shows kids spend an average of 5.5 hours
per day using media as entertainment with little, if any, parental supervision.
The king of time-killers is still TV, but computer and video games are
rapidly rising in popularity, particularly with boys.
- According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, 65 percent
of kids over 8 have a TV in their bedrooms and 70 percent have access to
a computer in the home. As the kids frantically click away, only 5 percent
of their parents are present.
- "Parents aren't exercising control," says Vicky
Rideout, author of the report. "There are no guidelines about what
or how much the kids are watching. When we are totally unaware about the
messages our kids are getting, that is cause for concern."
- Other statistics are equally troubling: Kids have a penchant
for violent titles. A 1998 Kaiser study that involved 33 popular game titles
found almost 80 percent of the games kids preferred contained violence
and aggression. While video games with violent themes make up only 5 percent
of the total market, they represent 12 to 25 percent of the total market
- In the interest of giving control back to parents, Deputy,
Inc. has developed software that lets adults learn about their children's
gaming habits and set limits on what, when, and how long they can play
- In the tradition of the vChip, a parental content control
device built into new TVs and Internet filtering and monitoring software,
Game Deputy is a discovery and monitoring tool that scours the PC's hard
drive and alerts parents to all the games installed on the computer. It
offers a review component that reveals game content and ratings, and a
blocking option that restricts access to certain content.
- If a child downloads a game from the Internet to the
hard drive, Game Deputy will discover it. But if a child sneaks a game
online, the silent monitor function will see that a game has been played,
but it won't know what game. The unaccounted for time in the monitor serves
to alert parents that their kids are playing "something" on the
- For reviews and ratings, Deputy Inc. uses a panel of
reviewers who are also gamers and parents. Along with the Deputy staff,
they select which games to review and include in the main database, starting
with the most popular games available. Constant updates will be available
from the web site and are included in the one-year subscription.
- For each game, Game Deputy displays the standard Entertainment
Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating, such as E for "everyone"
or M for "mature." The ESRB ratings system is a voluntary initiative
of the gaming industry, created to avoid government regulation.
- Probably the most effective feature of Game Deputy is
the time schedule, which lets parents set the time for when and how long
a game can be played. For example, a parent could set the schedule for
game playing on Monday to Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., not at all on
Thursday and Friday, and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
- Sounds convenient. But should parents be using technology,
which is often imperfect, in place of actual parenting? Many family experts
disagree with this approach.
- But Robin Raskin, Editor-in-Chief of FamilyPC, thinks
using a blocking solution as an aid to parenting is okay, particularly
for younger kids.
- "I think that older teens need more freedom and
to learn to behave responsibly without parental tools," she says.
"More insidious and problematic are the programs that are the equivalent
of spying on your children by mapping out every move they make. Of course,
there are times when trust breaks down and parents need to do whatever
they can to keep their kids from harm, but for the most part these things
put all the trust in technology and not enough trust in the parent/child
- Game Deputy software is available now on the company's
web site for a free limited trial. It will soon be for sale on retailers'
shelves, but the release date for the final version is still pending. The
final version will cost around $20 for the download and a one-year subscription
to the database.