Am I a bad dad for letting my kid use the headset in Xbox Live?

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Not five minute into my 11-year-old’s first Xbox Live Halo 3 match with a headset he got called "bitch". Then "punk" and then worse. But he got stuck with it, got better, and now he seems to have managed the rare art of being a confident leader in his matches without demeaning others. It’s called sportsmanship.

But that’s just me justifying my decision to let him play online with a headset.  And the truth is, I don’t know exactly what he’s been exposed to, and all the names he’s been called and words he’s heard. I can’t listen in (not because it’s not technically possible, but because he doesn’t want me to and he’s too old to be babysat while he plays games). And he probably isn’t telling me everything that’s gone on in his headset, even when I debrief with him after the game.

So I have very mixed feelings about letting an 11-year-old play with teenagers and adults, most of them strangers, online. (It’s usually too hard to coordinate games with just his friends.) We’ve trained him on what not to say (any personally identifying details) and what to watch out for. But it’s really the school of hard knocks in online gameplay, and I wonder whether this is a good lesson in real-world survival skills, or a scarring one.

[Note that you can easily play Xbox Live without the headset and avoid most of the really personal stuff. But it’s not the full experience.]

What do you think? Should an 11-year-old be allowed to play Xbox Live with a headset?

[Note for Digg readers, who are quick to conclude that I’m a game n00b and a monster for letting an 11-year-old play a M-rated game: I’ve not only played the game (start to finish) with him, but I’m IN the game (I’ve got a voice acting cameo). Also, a rating is a guideline to help parents use their own judgment based on what’s appropriate for their own kid, not a law.]

<a href ="http://answers.polldaddy.com/poll/870448/" >Should a preteen be allowed to play Xbox Live with a headset?</a>  <br/> <span style="font-size:9px;"> (<a href ="http://www.polldaddy.com">  surveys</a>)</span>

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