Texting While Driving and M-Rated Videogames

 Q:   Is there really an app that prevents kids from texting while driving?

A: Several mobile apps and software programs can block incoming texts to phones in a moving vehicle. Most of these programs use a cell phone’s GPS capabilities to sense how fast a vehicle is traveling. When the vehicle is going more than 10 m.p.h., the phone reacts to prevent users from answering calls or sending text messages. 

For instance, T-Mobile’s DriveSmart Plus costs $4.99 a month. Incoming calls are automatically sent to voicemail, and texts are met with a notice to the sender that the person is driving. The program silences incoming notifications to prevent driver distraction and offers a parental notification option if the override button is used. Texecution is an application that disables texting when speeds exceed 10 m.p.h. and charges a one-time fee of $29.99 per phone. iZup holds texts, emails, and incoming calls while driving for $2.95 a  month.

It’s important to remember that these apps aren’t a complete solution. While they may discourage texting and driving, teens can use another friend’s phone or figure out ways around the software. 

Apps like these may deter driving and texting, but the best way to teach safe habits is to model the behaviors yourself and talk about the dangers of distractions on the road. Get the conversation going with great free resources online. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov/ParentsAreTheKey) offers a parent-teen driving contract for teens to sign. 

AllstateTeenDriver.com created a program that allows teens to make a video promise to drive safely and send it to their parents. There’s also a Facebook link to “X the TXT” where you can order a thumb band that says “TXTING KILLS.” AT&T created a 10-minute documentary called “The Last Text” about people whose lives were adversely affected by texting and driving. Watch it with your teen driver at att.com/txtingcanwait.

Q:  My son’s friends all play shooting games rated “M” and want him to join them online. I’ve heard there are language and violence filters for these games. Where can I get them?

A: Some of the most popular video games today offer incredibly exciting graphics and challenging strategic problem solving. These games also contain extremely violent scenes and profane language. 

Tween and teen boys are especially attracted to these popular shooter games, most often given an “M” rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, and play them despite the “mature” rating. 

Some game developers have included filters that reduce the concerning content parents often find offensive. The “Call of Duty” series, for instance, allows players to reduce graphic content when setting up the game. The “Gears of War” series also offers a content and profanity filter.

Content filters have limitations, however, and parents should understand the following before depending on a content filter.

• Filters only limit some violence. While some content filters may limit blood splatters and profanity, they do not filter out violent actions or scenes. For instance, in the game “Call of Duty: World At War”, a content filter may limit blood and cursing; however, players can still use flame-throwers and burn enemies alive. 

• Filters are for single play. Most content filters work only in a single player mode. Kids who play games in a multi player environment or online will not be able to use most filters.

• Content can change online. Even a game rated “T” for teen that is played online is susceptible to profanity from the chat of other online players. If you’re allowing your teen to play multi-player games online, consider limiting friend choices or turning off the chat option. 

Because many of these popular games are marketed to a mature audience, it is not always easy to determine whether a game has content filter options. Filters are rarely identified on packaging or mentioned in the rating block. It may even be difficult to find out about them in the game’s instruction manual. 

The best way to find out about content filter options is to learn as much about the content as possible. While the ESRB ratings are a great guideline, video games vary intensely and understanding the context of the games your child is interested becomes more important as your child gets older. 

You can find detailed video game content reviews at CommonSenseMedia.org, which also offers a free app. ESRB.org also provides a free app which provides on-demand video game content by snapping a photo of the game cover and getting information delivered to your phone. WhatTheyPlay.com offers video game reviews, newsletters, and alerts for parents.

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