Last night I went to bed and found a note on my pillow. It was a heartfelt note from my son asking permission to play M rated video games. For those of you who aren’t raising video game crazy kids, M stands for Mature and means the games are intended for people over the age of 18. My son is ten.
His note laid out the reasons why he should be allowed to play these games:
- All of his friends are playing them.
- There is nothing wrong with Call of Duty. It just has some blood and swearing.
- He feels like an outcast (see reason number 1).
The sad truth is that many of his friends are playing these games. For whatever reason, their parents have allowed it. I will not, and here is why:
- The purpose of a game is to entertain. Violence is not entertaining. Taking pleasure in the simulated horrors of war and killing is just plain disturbing.
- Games are also educational. I do not want my children to learn how to be violent or kill. Period.
- Repeated exposure to violence and gore desensitizes a child. They lose their empathy. When there are true horrors in the world, we should feel horrified by them yet so many just shrug and move on because they’ve seen worse (usually in video games and movies).
- Studies have proven that repeated exposure to violence, even through video games, changes how a child’s brain works. The emotional center of the brain decreases while impulsivity and aggression increase.
- Overall, I feel like we as a society have a tendency to have our children grow up faster than they need to. Parents feel that their kids are more mature than their age would indicate, and then allow them to take part in activities for older children. Why not let them embrace their actual age and activities that are appropriate for that age?
I have explained these things to my son already, but he obviously didn’t feel they were good enough reasons to be denied Call of Duty. I’m sure there is nothing I can say to him that will make him be happy about my rules, but here is my response to him:
I love you very much and I plan every day how I can help you grow into a healthy, happy, intelligent, empathetic and successful man. Call of Duty does not fall into that plan. I accept advice from parents who have raised exceptional children and I accept guidance from professionals who have knowledge in areas that I do not. The people who rate the video games have studied the games and done research about the development of a child. They determine what is an appropriate age to be playing these games, and I trust their judgement.
While I don’t believe that all of your friends are playing M rated games, I know that many are. This is a great opportunity for you. You can choose to be a leader rather than a follower. You can set an example and demonstrate more appropriate activities for you and your friends. Many times in your life you will be presented with choices. Your friends may be choosing to do things that are unhealthy, immoral or even illegal and you will need to choose whether or not you will follow the crowd. Be a leader and a positive role model. Be outspoken about your choice not to play these games.
The fact that you suggest there is nothing wrong with a little blood and swearing in a game tells me two things: You have played Call of Duty already, and you are already somewhat desensitized to violence. I will be speaking to your friends’ parents from now on to ensure that you are not playing these games at their homes. I want to make sure you grow up with empathy. Spilled blood means pain and possibly death. It is not a way to earn points and celebrate. I know that you and your friends are testing the waters and using inappropriate words when speaking to one another, but I want you to understand that words can hurt and you are far too intelligent to express yourself in four letter words. In fact, I think you are too smart to play games that use that kind of language.
I am sorry you feel like an outcast. Do you know that you can choose how you feel? We send messages to ourselves all of the time, and your message to yourself is saying “outcast”. Maybe you can change the message to “leader”. I think that would be more accurate. I know you look up to and respect your brother. He was once a ten year old wishing he could play these games too, and I didn’t let him either. He turned out to be a pretty good guy, and I know you will too.