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Get to Know Your Teen: What is Online Gaming?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

Video games have come a long way from their very humble beginnings in the mid-20th century. The first rudimentary computer game made its debut in 1951, but Atari made game consoles a household name when they launched in 1972. These original home game systems were a far cry from the online gaming of today, though.

Think Pong compared to Grand Theft Auto, and you get an idea of the difference.

Primitive versions of today’s online gaming first emerged in the 1990s and then expanded throughout the 2000s. The industry experienced rapid expansion and innovation in the 2010s to become the behemoth $138-billion industry that it is today.

If you’re a parent, it’s almost impossible to escape online gaming discussion. Video games were easier to keep out of the house 15 years ago, but now they’re a firmly cemented part of society. All you need to play an online game today is a smartphone and a stable internet connection.

Encouraging teens to form healthy relationships with video games isn’t a new phenomenon. It has an entirely new meaning in today’s day and age, though, with the vast expansion of online gaming.

This article will address several questions most parents have about online gaming, including:

What is online gaming?

How does your teenager engage with them?

What can you do to keep your kids safe while they play?

We’ll start with the first question.

What is Online Gaming?

Online gaming is the activity of playing video games online with people from around the world. You can play online games on a computer, a video game console like Playstation or Xbox, or a mobile phone. As a parent, you probably already know what online gaming is, because you might have a few online games you enjoy, like competitive Tetris or blackjack on your smartphone.

Your teenagers probably have an online game or two they enjoy as well. Games like League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Fortnite, and VALORANT soared in popularity throughout the last decade. These games combine the enjoyable aspect of playing a game with the social aspect of spending time with friends, creating the perfect competitive combination.

Online Gaming Today

Online gaming today is no longer seen as a pursuit for computer-obsessed teens who never leave their bedrooms. Video games are played by the masses nowadays, with an ever-expanding library of titles and platforms available. From PC gaming to console gaming to mobile gaming, the options are endless.

The latest statistics on video game playing shows the following:

  • More than 200 million people in the United States play video games.1
    • That’s about 65% of the U.S. population
  • An estimated 2.77 billion people play video games globally
    • That’s about 36% of the world population
  • In 2016, video game sales in the U.S. reached almost 18 billion dollars

Those numbers are astounding, and the realm of video games continues to push the boundaries of what was possible only 5, 10, or 15 years ago.

Online multiplayer options created new avenues and opportunities for games. This also brought about the present-day popularity of video game streams and eSports. These advancements in video games catapulted them from a small niche hobby to a global powerhouse, allowing adept, popular players to make upwards of millions of dollars playing games.

How to Keep Your Kids Safe with Online Games

Online games don’t have to be a completely negative experience. In fact, they can be positive. Most consoles, platforms, systems, and games allow a variety of controls to let you limit what your kids can access.

So, how can you keep your kids safe while they play online games?

Get Familiar with the Game Rating System

The Entertainment Software Rating Board provides ratings for video games similar to the ratings for movies.1 Getting familiar with the ESRB rating system allows you to make more informed decisions about the games you let your teenager play.

Everyone (E)

Games rated E are suitable for almost everyone of all ages to play. These games may include some mild cartoon or fantasy violence or infrequent use of mild language. The majority of video games (about 69 percent of available titles) are rated E for Everyone.2

Everyone 10+ (E10+)

Games rated E10+ are appropriate for most children ages 10 and older. These games might depict cartoon or fantasy violence, mild language, or some suggestive themes.

Teen (T)

Games rated T are suitable for most teenagers ages 13 and older. These games may include violence, minimal blood, crude humor, suggestive themes, simulated gambling, or infrequent use of strong language. About 23 percent of video games are rated T.

Mature 17+ (M)

Games rated M are intended for mature audiences ages 17 and older. These games might contain intense violence, blood, gore, sexual content, or strong language. Only 7.2 percent of available games are rated M.

Adults Only 18+ (AO)

Games rated AO are intended for mature audiences ages 18 and older only. These games may include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content, or gambling with real money. Very few games receive an AO rating. Those that do have strict restrictions on where they’re made available.

Additional Pointers for Parents

Make Use of Parental Controls

Parental controls are a crucial part of limiting your teen’s access to questionable content. Some games offer parental control options so make use of those settings when they’re available.

Keep an Eye on Who Your Kids Play With

Online games allow your teen to play with their friends from school or family members across the country. However, most online games also offer matchmaking with random unknown players from around the world. While the majority of people online aren’t out to do harm, some are. Keep an eye on who your kids play games with regularly and make sure they’re safe. Rule of thumb: only allow them to play games with people they know in real life.

Set Time Limits for Video Game Use

There’s nothing wrong with playing video games. However, we recommend against allowing your teen to play games for hours on end. Games are made to keep people playing them, so you’ll need to set time limits for video game use. Talk with your teen and establish an appropriate amount of time for playing.

Maintain an Online and Real-Life Balance

No teenager should spend all their free time playing video games. Encourage a balance between their online life and their real life. We recommend making sure they have their homework done before allowing them to disappear into video game land. Also, we recommend requiring them to participate in activities that don’t involve screens at all, like reading, playing sports or engaging in outdoor activities, playing an instrument, playing board games, or socializing with friends.

Talk with Your Teen

Ultimately, the best way to get to know your teen and to keep them safe online is to talk with them. Problems arise when your child feels like they can’t talk to you out of fear of your judgment or punishment. The more you allow your teenager the space to talk, the more likely they are to meet you in the middle. Open communication is the most effective way to build a strong relationship with your teen and keep them safe.


  1. WePlay eSports. (2021). How Many People Play Video Games in The World?.
  2. Entertainment Software Rating Board. (2021). Ratings Guide.
  3. Norton. (2020). 2020 video game ratings in review, and what they mean to gamers.

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