It’s pretty rare that a national debate mirrors so exactly one that is raging within my own family circle. But in the wake of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary – and subsequent comments by National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre blaming gun violence on video game makers – a public discussion has been reopened about violent video games and their impact on society. It is the same discussion that has been going on, on a micro level, all fall in our household. Although, frankly, ”discussion” is too mild a verb to capture the emotions surrounding the debate between the parents and the teenager about whether he can have CALL OF DUTY: Black Ops II.
My oldest son turned 13 years old in October. He is a great kid, the kind of kid that other parents want their own kids to hang out with. He’s smart and self-confident, has good friends and does well at school. He is, I think, exceptionally mature for his age. And he likes to play video games. He has always liked to play video games, going way back to when he would choose to play Freddi Fish rather than watch a movie for his screentime.
His father and I don’t enjoy playing video games, so we start from a position of divergence.
Allowing for a difference in entertainment preferences (which I do), there is a second preliminary point that we don’t see eye to eye on: I don’t understand why it is fun to shoot at things. We’ve got a couple of BB guns at the cabin, and the kids are allowed to shoot them at targets. I’ve tried target practice and found it completely boring.
When my son was born, I was very clear that we would never have toy guns in the house. Then one day, when he was about 20 months, he saw a kid at the coffee shop make a gun with his thumb and index finger. The kid pointed his finger at Sevrin and said,”Pew! Pew!” And that was all it took. Fingers, sticks, Duplo legos – it seemed like everything was turned into a “shooter”. Before long, I had caved in to the reality of nature over nurture. Over the years, I not only allowed, but I myself purchased, a vast assortment of Nerf gun products for birthday and Christmas gifts. I didn’t understand it, but I saw no harm in it. So again, I have to acknowledge that others, including my son, might find it entertaining to shoot at things.
But all of this seemed was a long way off from first person shooter video games like CALL OF DUTY: Black Ops II. So when he asked for it for his birthday, we immediately said, “NO!”
Then I realized that, my general prejudice against video games and shooting things aside, I didn’t know anything about video games. I didn’t know what standards were used for rating them or whether there were parental controls. I realized that my son is a reasonable, intelligent person, even if he is still only 13 years old. I thought that he did have a point – it wasn’t fair that we were banning the games without knowing anything about them.
So in November, I began to dig deeper. My son and I both did research on violent video games and the impact on the brain. We shared our findings with each other, emailing back and forth. I spent hours not only doing research, but also reading comments by both parents and teenagers on the pros and cons of letting your kids play violent video games.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that CALL OF DUTY: Black Ops II is not appropriate for my 13 year old. My son was bitterly disappointed, and I am truly sorry for that. Sometimes a parent has to play the ultimate trump card, but I think it is important that we went through this process together.
This week, I will be writing about our experience in a series of posts I am titling CALL OF (Parental) DUTY. I think my son deserves the opportunity to voice his opinions to a wider audience, so he will contribute his writing to the series as well. Stay tuned!
Here are the links to other posts in this series:
CALL OF (Parental) DUTY: Part II “Freedom to Game is Important” (in which my 13 year old son expresses his point of view).
(I’ve been thinking about doing this series for some time, but it took a Weekly Writing Challenge: Just Do It – and a weeklong holiday – to get me motivated to actually do it. That, and a promise to my son that I would try to be fair and accurate.)