Alexandra Frean
Times Online
March 27, 2008

Video games will be forced to carry cigarette-style health warnings under proposals to protect children from unsuitable digital material.

The report, commissioned by the Prime Minister in response to a growing moral panic about video games, will conclude that they can harm the development of children’s beliefs and value systems and desensitise them to violence. It will also recommend that retailers who sell video games to anyone under the age rating on the box should face a hefty fine or up to five years in prison, The Times has learnt.

The report, written by Tanya Byron, the clinical psychologist and television parenting guru, is also expected to address the dangers of children’s use of the internet.

“Parents are afraid to let their children out,” she said. “So they keep them at home, but allow them to take risks online.”

She will call for a massive campaign to educate parents, teachers and childcarers about how to ensure that children get maximum benefit from the digital world without being exposed to its dangers.

This will include a drive for greater awareness of inappropriate content such as pornography. Parents will be encouraged to monitor children’s online use and keep computers in living rooms rather than bedrooms. Dr Byron, a Times columnist who has two children aged 9 and 12, said that video and online games could have enormous benefits “in terms of learning and development”, but that there was too little awareness among parents about the associated risks they posed and how to manage those risks.

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