PHOENIX -- It's a billion-dollar business that brings gamers of all ages together. But when the games are played online, all bets are off. Parental controls, even game ratings, disappear. As a result, more and more young kids are being exposed to sexual and derogatory comments while their parents are left in the dark.
For Valley father Matthew Kinney and his three sons, playing Xbox is more than fun, it's become a hobby.
But even Kinney admits, "Because I play games myself, we're probably more liberal than most parents."
Despite that, Kinney was shocked to hear some of the sexual innuendo and derogatory comments made during the heat of battle.
"Language that would make a sailor blush," he said. "The racial stuff is really bad. Having to explain to your kid what those homophobic slurs mean puts you in a delicate situation."
Kinney said it's practically impossile to monitor when the games are played online.
"Once you go online, it's the wild west," he said.
That is why Kinney often puts his kids in what's called the Family Zone.
"We've actually experienced the worst content, the worst experiences, in the Family Zone because you are dealing with mom and dad think, 'Oh I put my kid in the Family Zone, he'll be all right,' and they're a holy terror," Kinney said.
Sam Burba manages student prevention programming for Not My Kid.
"When you bring in that competitive activity where everybody wants to win, it's easy to say what's on the top of your mind. We really need to teach kids to take a second, to pause and think what information am I putting out there," Burba said. "A kid that's exposed to certain pictures and images online are more likely to abuse tobacco, use alcohol,and even use marijuana, so we see the early exposure has a great impact on a child's development. I don't think most parents do realize the extent of what's going on."
As for Kinney, he keeps close tabs on the games by running audio into the speakers so everyone is aware of what's being said.
"You're not going to stop your kid from hearing certain words but at least you can say hey don't say that word or this word, disconnect or whatever it might be," Kinney said. "With your kids, you teach them the best you can."
For more information about Not My Kid, visit www.notmykid.org or to learn more about the study Burba mentioned, visit www.casacolumbia.org.