Along with the ESRB all 3 systems have some level of parental controls that are accessible through the systems main menus. These can help you manage what content is accessible on the system and allow you to put in some form of password to protect it. I will give a brief explanation on the Nintendo and Playstation controls, along with a link to all 3's web site's parental control pages. I will go into more depth with the Xbox's as that is not only my personal system, but also because I think it is the better of the three for control.
Nintendo allows you to set a limit on the rating content, such as movies, both disc and Netflix, games, what channels they have access to and whether they are allowed to spend points. Click for their How To
Playstation allows you to limit the content, movies, music, games, and online access. However it is my understanding that it is more awkward and less intuitive than the other systems. Click for their How To
Xbox, being that it has the most varied and largest demographic, it is the top selling console going on 2 or 3 years, has the greatest amount of control. Allowing you to set limits not only on content; games, movie, music, but also chat. This includes all types of chat; text, voice and video with the Kinect. Also, if you have multiple accounts on the system you are able to set locks on those. This means you can set up your child's account to limit who they are playing with, talking with and also how much access they have to other players profiles. But at the same time leaving your profile open, all you have to do is lock you profile.
One of the main issues with children is the amount they play. Xbox handles this by allowing you to set play time limits, either daily or weekly limits. It allows you to set a predetermined amount of time, once that time is reached the system will shut down until the next day or week, depending on what you have set. The remaining time is displayed when the center button is pushed. If used properly, and you and your child discuss this system and show them where they can see their remaining time you have a great opportunity to teach them valuable time management skills. If they use all their time for the week in the first 2 days then they have to deal with the consequences.
They other point I mentioned was what they have access to. Xbox's online community has 4 preset "zones". These zones help players find similar types of people to play with. Recreation is all about having fun, Pro is for those who play to win, Family is safe and fun for the everyone, and Underground (my zone) is not for the faint of heart, trash talking and tea bagging can be found here. This is a good start to protect your child. You can also limit who they can play, chat and view profiles of. Whether that be friend only, everyone or blocked.
This is but a fraction of the level of control you can set for your child. Click for their How To
With this and the previous post you can see that the level of protection you can set for your children is a lot higher than most non gamers would think. The gaming industry can only do so much to protect their players, it is up to you, the parents, to use the given tools to your advantage. Be educated about what your child is doing. Next time someone says something about your child's gaming be sure to pass on this information, no child should miss out on this world wide form of entertainment because of ignorant parents.
Steve, the Lazy Gamer