When one sees an ESRB, MPAA or app store age-appropriateness rating, what does it really mean? When the label says it is appropriate for a 14y.o. – does it mean it’s ok for a 13.5 year old? Is it ok for a 13 y.o.? What about for a 12, 11 or 10 year old? How accurate are those age ratings?
We (the folks involved with and around the Valuelizer) felt for a long while that a lot of the age-appropriate media is not really “age-appropriate”. No, we are not prudes or ultra conservatives by any means. Yet we found too many apps and games that are entirely inappropriate for children. Actually some are not appropriate for adults either. Now when I say appropriate, please do not picture a bunch of old country-side British ladies, sipping afternoon tea from porcelain tea cups with a somewhat snobbish expression. Imagine parents like you and your friends, from different walks of life. Imagine fathers and mothers seeing some of their kids’ games and saying “that is going to mess up your personality and reality perception. I don’t think so” or “this app is coming out of some sick, twisted mind and is no good for anyone, let alone a child.”
One evening we were debating this topic and the question came up – are we completely off or do most parents think this way? Maybe the case is that nobody (especially not media publishers) gives parents the day of light (or cares about what they think).
So, being the analytical minds that we are, we decided to check. Since we appreciate people that put their money where their mouth is, we set up a research study.
The question to be asked was: do producers/app store ratings of kids’ apps and games correspond with what parents deem as appropriate age for consumption?
Now how do you quantify how age-appropriate an app or a game for a certain age, is? One way was to ask parents what the age that this item is age-appropriate for, and compare it to the minimal age group it was published for. With enough parents answering, one would get a measurable gap – in years and months. The gap between the minimal age recommended and what actual parents thought was an appropriate age, is a very tangible number. If this number is very close to 0 – this would mean there is no gap, and what parents think fits what they actually can find on an app store when looking for games and apps (or their kids doing that on their own when old enough).
So what did the research reveal?
A gap of 7.8 years!!
The gap between what parents think is age-appropriate and the apps’ age classification is on average 7 years and 10 months!
This means when you are looking at a game or app stating it is age-appropriate for a 4 year old, it’s highly likely that if you’d play it and look inside, you’d say it is appropriate for a child about to turn 12. Or another way to look at it – if your child is 11, she is very likely to encounter game and apps that are for adults in terms of sexuality, body image, profanity, scariness and violence.
Now, to be fair, not everything rated for a certain age is necessarily bad. The issue is it is not guaranteed. It’s kind of a roulette game. And one never knows. This ambiguous state is exactly what creates the problem: since parents rely on the age rating, which as demonstrated is absolutely unreliable, they believe they can go hands-off.
Assuming of course, parents care what messages their kids are exposed to, they clearly cannot be hands-off.
To read more about the research we conducted, its methodology, validity and to what extent it represents everyday American parents (hint – VERY much), click on this link.
Stay tuned for more fascinating insights that surfaced while we were at it.
To be fair and honest, there is a lot of great children’s media (apps, games, movies, etc’.) out there. The main problem is that a parent cannot rely on paid, automated or semi-automated systems and processes, and let their child “roam freely”.
Now, the real question to ask is – what can we do about it?
I am just going to put it out here for a moment.