A helpful framework for kids and video games

An interview with a gaming platform CEO

December 27, 2022

As children fill their time during Christmas break and are exposed to their friends’ new devices, many parents are thinking anew about the gaming and technology options for their kids and how the digital world is shaping them, for good or ill. Brent Dusing, founder and CEO of TruPlay, answers questions below that help Christian parents think through bringing video games into their homes.  

Jill Waggoner: How does time on devices affect kids?  

Brent Dusing: On average, children are on their screens for 52 hours a week. Anxiety, suicide, and depression rates are at all-time highs for kids, which mirrors the rise of social media. The average age of males exposed to pornography is 11. While 62% of Americans over 40 believe in God, only 33% of Gen Z (the youngest generational cohort) do. That is a crisis. And it all has to do with the messages and intake they’re getting on screens. 

Devices are mobile, and kids are everywhere with them, so parents have less and less oversight and input. Content can also be exposed to children from their friends. You might have your own household rules, but once your child gets on a school bus and goes to school, you have little to no control over what they see. Your kid could be over at a friend’s house or at a sports practice when they are exposed to inappropriate content from someone else.  

This should be a growing concern for parents, as children in today’s world spend more time online than ever before. In a survey of 1,600 U.S. teens and tweens conducted in May 2022 by The Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institute, the data revealed that kids ages 11-18 play online for an average of 10 hours per day, not including watching television. When the content children are engaging with is not age-appropriate or safe for their developing minds and hearts, this can have a profound impact on their mental wellness. And yet, many parents are still not closely monitoring which games and apps their kids are using. Most have good intentions, but don’t know how to effectively shield their kids from harmful content, nor do they know where to find healthier options. 

If you’re an adult and you care about the next generation, you feel an obligation to act like an adult and protect children. We are supposed to do our best for children and that is not the way society is going today. As a Christian, you should care about the health, well-being, and spiritual maturity of children. There’s a lot wrong with our society, and children are always the victims. They are always the ones at the bottom as these negative effects trickle down. 

Our mission at TruPlay is bringing positive, awesome, world-class, fun entertainment to kids right where they are on a screen just like Jesus met people where they are. There’s a real God who loves them and wants children to know they’re special. There is real value in the Bible inspired by a wonderful God, and there’s hope and truth to be found. There is truth in Jesus Christ and that’s the message we want to send out. 

JW: What type of content is found in many video games that would be inappropriate for children? Is there a rating system that helps parents navigate this? 

BD: Many video games let gamers sell drugs, shoot police and innocent people, or engage with sexual content. There’s a lot of really gory and violent content, and those kinds of things dehumanize people. There is a rating system, but it’s easily circumvented by kids. The rating system is also hard for parents to discern what rating is deemed appropriate for their child. Not every parent has the time and the bandwidth to parse through all of it and play every video game or watch every cartoon ahead of time. It’s not necessarily realistic to expect that the parent is going to be able to have the time, but there are ways to stay involved in what our children are taking in online.  

Be encouraged it’s not all bad news online—there are gaming experts with deep industry experience committed to making high-quality digital entertainment for today’s kids and their parents. As you subscribe, download, and engage with safe content, you also support a demand for it. You don’t have to compromise on fun or entertainment to enjoy the world of digital entertainment. You just need to choose your sources wisely. 

JW:  What are the positives of video games that would encourage parents to consider them? 

BD: Video games do have real intellectual challenges, so they really are a way to build intellectual skills. They also build reaction time. There’s a lot of pilot and military training that takes place essentially with simulated games. Video games are a great way to tell stories and immerse people into worlds and narratives. Also, video games are a form of entertainment that helps contribute to enjoying life and having fun. Video games can be educational, and these claims are backed up by research

JW: What are the risks of online gaming where players can interact with other players? How should parents monitor this? 

BD: Since 2016, CyberSafeKids, an Irish charity that empowers children, parents, schools, and businesses to navigate the online world in a safer and more responsible way, has surveyed 38,614 children aged between 8 and 13. The organization conducted research in the 2021–2022 academic year to track the digital trends and usage of 4,408 children ages 8-12 years old. 

The research, released in September 2022, revealed the following staggering statistics:  

In terms of social channels, they can be harmless fun, but there have been many incidents of sexual predators getting connected to children. Kids also can be vulnerable to bullying online, which can lead to children being susceptible to suicide.  

Ultimately, the most important thing is to monitor what kind of content the children are exposed to. Using parental controls on phones, tablets and laptops can help prevent exposure to harmful content. In addition, parents can help keep their children safe by taking these steps:

Parents do have a choice as to what their kids engage with online, and their attention to it is critical. 

JW: What are healthy boundaries and parameters you would encourage for play time? 

BD: I think that families have to set their own parameters and boundaries with their children. For my family, we do allow some screen time, but we limit our children to 30 minutes a day during the school week and on weekends, there’s a little more time. We also have expectations for our children around grades, homework, sports practices, chores, and other responsibilities. 

We have given our children very clear guidelines around content choices. I think content choices are actually more important than the amount of screen time that a child is given. Parents should not feel guilty about their kids being online. There are many benefits and solid reasons for kids to spend time online, yet parameters are important. Households can implement healthy boundaries for how much screen time children are permitted each day. And at the end of the day, parents can collect phones and electronics from their children before they go to bed or keep phones in common areas of the house. 

Jill Waggoner

Jill Waggoner serves as a communications and PR strategist, writing and developing content for the organization’s online and print resources. She has served the ERLC since 2005, including as brand manager for Global Hunger Relief from 2014-2018. A graduate of Union University, she and her family reside in Lebanon, Tennessee. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24