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Do you know the ESRB? And how it relates to your tween’s video games?

By Desmond Brown

Have you seen these images on your kid’s video game box? It is the symbol for the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) rating system. Like movies and television, video games have a rating system. It signals to everyone which games are “age-appropriate” for various ages.  

In the United State, games are given ESRB ratings before they are sold. The ratings are based on the content. Below I explain the various rating categories.

But before I do, allow to me explain that this system is pretty much voluntary. With one exception, the rating “AO” that means essentially “pornography”, stores don’t have to check the ID of a teenager or restrict sales of games because of the ESRB rating.  The courts in the United States have ruled restricting video game sales is the equivalent of restricting free speech. So, in theory, your tween can “buy” a violent, mature-only video game. Fortunately, all national retailers voluntarily restrict sales to minors for “M” games. This is probably because they would suffer a severe public backlash if they didn’t. However, any tween that really wants a game, and can play it without their parent’s knowledge, can just “aquire” it from someone older.

So, here’s the rating system:

E – For Everyone

These games are for everyone and are typically family or party-type games. Think Wii Bowling or Super Mario Cart. Common descriptions include Comic Mischief, Mild Fantasy Violence and Mild Cartoon Violence. “Cartoon Violence”, by the way, means the artwork looks very flat and cartoony. “Fantasy” means the artwork is more realistic.

E 10+ – For Everyone Ten and Up

This means the game is more suited for children aged 10 or up. These games typically have: Crude Humor, Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes, and Mild Language.

T- For Teen

“Teen” means “13 or higher.” These games feature Crude Humor, Mild to Moderate Violence, Mild to Moderate use of Language, Suggestive Themes, Sexual Themes, and Mild Realistic or Animated Blood.  Please note, these games are allowed to feature the use of tobacco or alcohol. As I said above, tweens are still able to purchase these games without the presence of an adult.  Most stores won’t check for an ID if the customer looks like they are in their teens.

M – For Mature

“Mature” games are typically the most controversial games because of their violent and suggestive content. Games like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty are associated with the “M” rating. They feature Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Sexual Themes, and Partial or Full-Frontal Nudity. Parents or someone above 17 are typically required to be present when a “M” rated game is purchased. However, websites usually require just a button is pressed that “certifies” the purchaser is over 17.

A – For Adult (or AO – Adult Only)

“Adult” rated games are the most severely rated games by the ESRB. These games are only available for people 18 or older and often have pornographic content. Very few games today are given an “A” rating and very few stores like GameStop or WalMart even sell these games.

While the ESRB rating system is important for parents to know (the ESRB provides its own “parent discussion guide” here), parents should also consider going online to look at how other parents view a particular game. Try “Google-ing” the game name and “parents” or “parent reviews”.

You should also know that another important element of games that many manufacturers will display is the Interactive Elements of the game. These can include In-Game Purchases, Users Interact, Shares Location or Unrestricted Internet. Unfortunately, these labels might not be detailed enough. Does “In-Game Purchases” mean buying skins for a character, buying loot, adding powers, or turning off annoying features?  Does “Users Interact” mean only text chatting, or is voice added? Or video? Parents will have to do additional research whenever they see these markings.

You will also want to know if a game is an online multiplayer game. In many cases, game manufacturers do not filter the online connections by age group, so your tween could be playing a game with a complete (adult) stranger, if you are not careful. Dr. Lauber told us a story of walking by his tween playing an online game and hearing, through the kid’s headset, several adults swearing. He immediately changed the “game playing while online” rules at his house.

I don’t want to imply that all game playing is harmful. I don’t think it is. I’m an avid video game player myself.  But, I’m not a tween, and many of today’s most popular games were not around when I was young.  Parents, you must be careful. Not “every game” is for “everyone”.

Links:

For more information on ESRB’s policies and how they rate games, you can visit their website at http://www.esrb.org/

To see what the ESRB has to say directly to parents, try

https://www.esrb.org/about/familyguide.aspx

To see the Federal Trade Commission’s discussion on what parents can do to limit the access of children to video games, try

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0270-kids-parents-and-video-games

The Family Online Safety Institute also offers this advice: https://www.fosi.org/good-digital-parenting/tips-help-manage-your-kids-games-and-apps/

“8th Grade” Movie Review: Every Parent of a Tween Should Watch It

By Seth Woolcock

Ever wonder what it’s like to be an eighth grader in today’s world?
Let Bo Burnham show you. Usually known for his comedy and music, Burnham explores the crazy world of junior high in his 2018 film “Eighth Grade.”

Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) is just like any 13-year-old girl today. She’s self-conscious, lives on social media and strives to be a YouTube blogger – which means she gives kids her age her advice. But off camera, Kayla is crippled with anxiety. She can’t take any chances. The movie follows her through the ups and downs of her last week of classes in the eighth grade.

Kayla’s dad (Josh Hamilton) may be a lot like you. He’s a single parent who loves his kid and would do anything for her, but often finds himself out of touch with his daughter. He believes she lives in a world where people are more disconnected from each other than ever before. Throughout “Eighth Grade” Burnham paints a picture of eighth grade as it is TODAY for American teenagers.

So, I’m a guy in my early twenties – much closer to that age range than you, probably – and I can tell you the accuracy of the movie is unreal.  It has a lot of good messages for both parents and teens. But through conversations with others, I’ve been surprised by how many grown-ups don’t know half the stuff in this movie.  School-shooting drills, Instagram, “finstas”, and Steph Curry jerseys, a lot has changed since you’ve been in middle school. I think it has good information for any parent today, and it provides it wrapped in good story-telling.

The movie talks about (shows) themes like being yourself, putting yourself out there, discovering confidence and growing up – all things every teen/tween deals with, but they are a different challenge in today’s 24/7, hyper-connected world.

Fortunately, “Eighth Grade” also reminds us that things do get better. At a high school shadowing program, Kayla meets Olivia (Emily Robinson), who becomes the first person to really put her arms around Kayla. It foreshadows that high school might just be a bit better for Kayla.

Maybe ironically, I found the music in the movie really worked for me (you’ll hear what I mean when you watch it.) With a run time of only an hour and 24 minutes, and a 99 percent critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, this movie really is a must-watch, especially if you are a parent of a teen or tween today.

“Eighth Grade” is available to steam for free on Amazon Video if you are an Amazon Prime account holder. It’s also available for rental in the iTunes and Google Play store.

Links to other movie reviews of “8th Grade”:

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/eighth_grade

“8th Grade” the movie by Bo Burnham

New York Times movie review of “8th Grade”

Today’s Pop Music: What’s it really saying?

By Seth Woolcock

Today, Americans spend an average of 32 hours per week listening to music. That means your kid listens to more than 69 days-worth of music per year.

Maybe they’re getting some benefits from music, like lowered stress, improved health, better rhythm. But every generation likes a new style of music – perhaps one (particularly one?) their parents don’t understand. 

So what are kids listening to today? 

Let me break it down for you.

A short while ago when I was in high school, every Friday morning I had more spring in my step because it was “New Music Friday”. I really looked forward to Friday because I love music and I couldn’t wait to hear new tracks.

You see, Friday is the day most artists release their new music.  It’s also the day Apple Music and Spotify, the two most popular music streaming services, update their top charts.

I was able to start my day with new tunes by Maroon 5, Fall Out Boy, Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line and many other great artists and groups. The music was relatable, and I felt motivated listening to those new tracks.

Over the years, since I’ve come to college, I’ve found it a bit more difficult to get out of bed on Fridays. I still use music to motivate me throughout the day, but I find myself reverting to the same music I’ve been listening to since 2014. I’m not excited about today’s new music.

Why? Because the music has changed.

Yes, top charts are now completely flooded with rap and hip-hop music, but that’s not it. I’ve always liked some rap and hip-hop. But today it’s not the same rap and hip-hop. It’s “trap” music. “Trap” refers to places where people make drug deals. Maybe you’ve heard of “trap” houses? The lyrics in today’s hit songs would shock you. Go ahead. Google some. 

For example, Apple Music’s chart currently says number seven is “Drip Too Hard” by Lil Baby & Gunna. The second line in the song goes, “I gave ’em the drip, they sucked it up, I got ’em on it”. Only two lines later, Lil Baby says, “Takin’ these drugs, I’m gon’ be up until the mornin’.”

After a quick google search, “the drip” refers to the point where cocaine drips down your throat after snorting it.

Other songs in the Top 20 have drug references right in their name. Future’s “Crushed Up” and Lil Baby’s “Pure Cocaine”. 

Others songs objectify women.  Number 10 on the Apple music chart is Blueface’s “Thotiana”. Another quick google search… Well, let’s say any father of a girl would literally turn blue in the face.

 I’m not saying Apple wants people to listen to this music. These tracks are simply on the charts because they are the best-selling songs of the week. 

And while there are still some artists making good music about good things… it is getting harder and harder to find these songs. If your kid is listening to “just what’s popular today,” it may be time to introduce them to maybe some of your old music. Say from the 1990’s?  

Course, I recommend 2014.

Awww… the good old days.

Some Useful Links & Research: 

https://www.ashford.edu/online-degrees/student-lifestyle/how-does-music-affect-your-brain

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004676/