On Your Mind: The argument over mature-rated video games

Question: My husband and I are stuck in the same argument. Our 12-year-old son is asking us if he can play some video games that have a “mature” rating — mostly shooting/war type games. My answer has always been “no” to these types of violent games. But my husband does play these types of games in his free time, and he thinks our son is old enough to play them without having any negative effect. I don’t agree with that opinion, but I also don’t want to discount my husband’s perspective on it. How can we come to a decision on this question without either one of us sacrificing what we believe? As our son gets older, these questions about games and movies will just keep on coming. Help!

Response by Felicia Sanders, LMSW

Navigating these parenting decisions with such a quickly evolving landscape like technology and video games can definitely be confusing. How do we respect and validate our partner’s view points and parenting values while still reconciling our own and keeping our children safe? It’s tricky, but possible.

First, let’s delve into the research. Cornell reports that 97% of teens aged 12-17 play video games either on a computer, console, or portable device (Gill, 2013). The gaming industry has taken the 21st century by storm as one of the most widespread leisure activities for both children and adults. With such sweeping popularity, is it valid to worry about the effects of violence to the conscious and unconscious mind?

The American Psychological Association (APA) has compiled an extensive review of data to answer this question. Although it may seem that reliable data may not be available due to the novelty of video games, the APA actually reports that the link between violent video game exposure and aggressive behavior is one of the most studied and best established in social science research. The APA resolution is clear that multiple studies show a link between rates of consuming violent video game material and a decrease in socially desirable behavior, namely “prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement, as well as an increase in aggressive behavior, affect, and cognitions (American Psychological Association, 2015).”

It is also important to note what types of violence you can expect from a game with a “mature” rating. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has specific ratings for the content in games. E for Everyone, E for everyone 10+, Teen, Mature, and Adult’s Only. The ESRB recommends T for teen games appropriate for a child ages 13 and up. These games do have some mature content (suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, and strong language). Mature rated games (suggested for ages 17+) have themes of intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and strong language (Entertainment Software Association, 2019).

There are many factors involved in deciding what is appropriate for your family, including the maturity of your child. In speaking with your partner, consider using the ABC (Agree, Build, Compare) communication technique in making this decision. Begin the conversation by identifying what you and your partner both agree on, for example, “I know we both care about our child’s wellbeing and want him to be happy and successful.”

Next, build on the key pieces that might be missing in communication between you, i.e. “The research indicates that early exposure to violence in video games might increase aggressive behaviors and decrease social behaviors.” Finally, compare your two views to identify areas for growth and next steps in decision making (Patterson, 2012). For more information, check out www.commonsensemedia.org to peruse further reading, find parent reviews for specific games/websites/and TV shows, as well as connect to other helpful technology resources online.


  • American Psychological Association. (2015). Resolution on Violent Video Games. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/about/policy/violent-video-games.aspx
  • Patterson, Kerry. (Eds.) (2012) Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Gill, Lydia. (2013). Children and Video Games. Cornell University. Retrieved from: https://www.human.cornell.edu/sites/default/files/PAM/Parenting/FINAL-P-P-Video-Games-2.pdf
  • Entertainment Software Rating Board. (2019). ESRB Ratings. Retrieved from: https://www.esrb.org/ratings/

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