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Video Games and Violence: Where Should Our Family Draw the Line?

If you’d asked me 10 years ago what kind of parents my husband and I would be, I would’ve answered without skipping a beat.

We’d insist on healthy food and family dinners around the table every night.

We’d listen, really listen, to our kids so they’d always know we cared.

Oh, and one more thing: no video games.

I’d arrived at this decision with an arsenal of real-life examples of good kids gone bad; by age 20 their lives had devolved to a world of basement game tournaments on easy chairs that smelled permanently of pot and Natural Light. As I imagined it, their parents had thrown in the towel sometime between puberty and prom and resigned themselves to a future of yelling down the stairs when the boy-men got too loud.

Not my sons. Oh no.

There was also our culture’s normalization of violence and, in my opinion, the glorification of guns to contend with. My children have never known a world without war, so why intentionally bring violence and combat into our home?

But (and in parenting there’s always a “but”) the reality of raising children is different from the fantasy. Ten years later and we are not, in fact, a video game free house. I actually enjoy playing some games with my kids and have found it to be some of the best “family time” we spend together (we rang in the new year with a Just Dance-off and not to brag, but mama won. My “Proud Mary” is fierce, you guys). My husband and I decided that instead of a no video game rule, we’d simply have a no violent video game rule.

As we’re coming to learn, this rule is almost as difficult to enforce.

The problem with making blanket statements like “there will be no violent video games” is this: that violence is not violence is not violence. While some games contain overt violence— realistic weaponry, carnage, blood— in many others the violence is more suggestive. Going by game ratings is helpful, but not always reliable (for our family, anyway).

Take Lego Star Wars, for example.The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) gave this innocuous-sounding game an E (for everyone) rating. My kids love LEGOs and have watched some of the milder Star Wars spin-off cartoons, so I allowed them to play the video game. I don’t know what I imagined the game would be like, but was nonetheless surprised when my then 4 year old was blowing up bad guys and shooting with lasers. To be honest, it was upsetting. Wasn’t that considered violent?

In our house this issue is more complicated by my children’s ages. With a 6 year gap between my oldest and youngest, what’s appropriate for one isn’t appropriate for all. Yet the exposure is there. The exposure is also there in school, at friends’ houses, and in the culture at large.

Another issue I couldn’t have predicted 10 years ago was that of smart phone apps. Just last night I discovered that one of my children downloaded a shoot ‘em up game without my permission.

As parents, we want to do the right thing. We want to limit our children’s exposure to things that have the potential to do them harm, and in my opinion, violent games can breed violent fantasies which can breed guess what? You got it: violence. It’s getting harder and harder to set limits and stick to them. To be diligent and stay on top of the influences coming into our homes.

What’s the answer? I’m not sure. I just know it takes more than blanket statements to protect my kids. I takes constant monitoring, educating myself and my children, and above all else, communication. It takes work every day to teach my family why we have the rules we do, and faith that they’ll come to make the same choices when it’s up to them to decide.

More by Mary Lauren:

 From Classroom to Playground: Why Recess is More than Just “Free Time” for Kids

Practice Gratitude: Kid-Friendly Thank You Cards

Experts Weigh in on 6 Common New Year’s Parenting Resolutions (and how to make them happen!)

 

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